From the Ashes of Vesuvius, In Stabiano on view July 8–October 7, 2007
Many are aware that Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in A.D. 79 buried the famous town of Pompeii, Italy. Few people know that it also buried Stabiae, a seaside enclave of the rich and famous about three miles away, at the foot of the Sorrento-Amalfi Coast.
From the Ashes of Vesuvius, In Stabiano: Exploring the Ancient Seaside Villas of the Roman Elite will open at the Dallas Museum of Art on July 8 with a stunning collection of archaeological objects from the ancient Roman site of Stabiae (modern Castellammare di Stabia), including the various living areas of an upscale Roman villa. The exhibit— which premiered at the Smithsonian before traveling to other U.S. cities— will be on display in the J. E. R. Chilton Galleries through October 7.
From the Ashes of Vesuvius, In Stabiano features maps, excavation photographs and 72 objects dating between 89 B.C. and the time of the eruption, all from the villas of ancient Stabiae.
“The site is an enormous archaeological treasure, another ‘modern Pompeii’ waiting to be discovered,” said Anne Bromberg, The Cecil and Ida Green Curator of Ancient and Asian Art at the Dallas Museum of Art. “The remarkable exhibition presents the lifestyle of the very wealthy and powerful Roman elite. It is the best preserved concentration of 1st century B.C. and A.D. elite seaside villas in the entire Mediterranean world.”
“Among the artifacts are ancient frescoes, many of the highest quality, that demonstrate to visitors two major styles of the time,” said guest co-curator Thomas Noble Howe, Coordinator General of The Restoring Ancient Stabiae (RAS) Foundation project and professor at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. “The first style is a painterly style with floating figures and drapery fluttering in the breeze, painted with impressionist-like strokes as seen in the frescoes ‘Flora’ and ‘Diana’; and the second is a more dramatic style featuring actors of the time portraying mythological scenes.”
The exhibition was organized by the RAS Foundation, under the scientific supervision of the Archaeological Superintendancy of Pompeii, and sponsored by the Region of Campania and Alitalia Airlines. It tells the stories of four villas owned by wealthy Romans who spent the summer months in this town by the bay—Villa San Marco, Villa del Pastore, Villa Arianna and Villa Carmiano. In the story of Villa Carmiano, visitors can see the complete reconstruction of a triclinium, a three-couch dining room. The three couches, arranged in a U shape, could accommodate up to nine guests, whose seating order would be carefully chosen. They would recline and prop up on their left elbows, reaching for food on small tables placed in front of them.
Because it buried the towns in dry ash and pumice, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius preserved the furnishings, household items and farm equipment. The exhibition includes examples of these everyday objects including lamps, dinnerware, cooking utensils and garden tools made of materials like terracotta, glass, ceramic, bronze and iron.
The tour of eight American museums, organized by International Arts & Artists, Washington, D.C. and partially sponsored by NIAF, Grand Circle Foundation, and the Istituto Italiano di Cultura of Los Angeles, is the result of a unique arrangement between Italy and the United States creating the first longtime loan of antiquities from Italy to the United States. The agreement is intended to help protect the cultural heritage of Italy and to enrich American cultural life throughout educational programs and loans between Italian and American institutions.
In Dallas, the exhibition is supported by Interceramic and by the Donor Circle membership program through leadership gifts by Gail and Dan Cook, Charron and Peter Denker, Amy and Vernon Faulconer, The Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas, and Dee Torbert. The Dallas Museum of Art acknowledges generous funding from the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs. Air transportation provided by American Airlines; promotional partners are the Dallas Morning News and Time Warner Cable.
Two thousand years ago, the town known as Stabiae was a seaside resort community of lavish summer villas for powerful Romans overlooking the Bay of Naples. The elite discovered the beauty of the region and made it a virtual center of political power during the hot summer months of the Roman Senate holiday. Many “business meals” were taken in the great halls beneath frescoes and among stunning statues and furnishings.
There, deals were brokered, decisions made and alliances formed similar to the working social events of today’s modern business world. It was the Camp David and Crawford, Texas of its day.
Then, on August 24, A.D. 79, about midday, Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying the ancient town of Stabiae in ash and cinders, along with nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The disaster brought an end to life in Stabiae, but also preserved the town for future exploration. Stabiae was forgotten until excavations that began at Herculaneum (1738) and Pompeii (1748) were extended to Stabiae in 1749.
The Bourbon king Charles VII of Naples promoted the excavation, which marked the beginning of modern archaeology. Eventually, Charles VII decided that the site of Stabiae be reburied and, once again, it was forgotten. In the 1950s, a curious principal of the local classical high school, with the help of an enthusiastic janitor and an unemployed car mechanic, began a second excavation at their own expense. The project was gradually passed to the Superintendancy of Archaeology of Pompeii.
The Superintendancy oversaw two more phases of excavation in the 1980s and 1990s and has scheduled a third major phase to begin later this year. The current phase of work was sparked by the master’s thesis of a young and passionate Italian architect from Castellammare di Stabia who was studying at the School of Architecture at the University of Maryland.