DMA to present From the Ashes of Vesuvius, In Stabiano: Exploring the Ancient Seaside Villas of the Roman Elite

From the Ashes of Vesuvius, In Stabiano: Exploring the Ancient Seaside Villas of the Roman Elite 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. But, 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). 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.

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 area, besides being a seaside getaway for the elite, was the Camp David and Crawford, Texas of its day. There, deals were brokered, decisions made and alliances formed similar to the working social events of today’s modern business world.

“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 first 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 (R.A.S.) 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 R.A.S. Foundation, under the scientific supervision of the Archaeological Superintendence 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., 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.

Background
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. But 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 Superintendence of Archaeology of Pompeii.

The Superintendence 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.

About the Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art, established in 1903, has an encyclopedic collection of more than 26,000 works spanning 5,000 years of history and representing all media with renowned strengths in the arts of the ancient Americas, Africa, Indonesia, and South Asia; European and American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts; and American and international contemporary art.

The Dallas Museum of Art is the anchor of the Dallas Arts District and serves more than one-half million visitors a year, offering more than 3,500 education and public programs annually designed to engage people of all ages with the power and excitement of art.

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported in part by the generosity of Museum members and donors and by the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas/Office of Cultural Affairs and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

The Museum is located just south of Woodall Rodgers Freeway with driveways on both Harwood and St. Paul providing access to the underground parking garage. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day except Thursday, when the Museum stays open until 9 p.m. The Museum is closed Mondays, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.