A Partially-Closed Treasure Trove
After spending Friday walking around Pompeii in the sun, I was looking forward to visiting the Archaeological Museum in Naples very much. The reason? The empty shells of houses that you see in Pompeii are empty because their contents and decor have, over time, been carefully removed to be preserved and better displayed here. Whether it’s a wall-painting, a mosiac, a piece of sculpture or some other object, the Naples Museum has it all on display.
Sadly, whilst that last sentence may be true, the fact that it is displayed does not necessarily mean that it will be visible to you when you visit. Maybe it was because this was a Sunday morning, but there was a lot of ‘no entry’ tape across the doorways, and my viewing of the fresco rooms was a little hastier than planned on account of my being told they were going to close in 10 minutes. That’s not something you really want to hear when you’ve got 4 rooms of Roman wall painting to take in, just about each piece being familiar to you as the cover design for some Penguin Classic or other. Staff shortages? Perhaps. A pity, though, to come all this way and feel that I saw more of some of the objects when they were loaned to the British Museum last summer.
Still, what I did see was breathtaking. The mosaics from Pompeii are wonderfully fresh even now; their colours vivid and their designs so complex and beautiful. The ‘Alexander Mosaic’ was a particular highlight: the king charging into battle whilst Darius looks despairing backwards as his Persian forces beat a hasty retreat from his enemy’s near-tidal rush. The pieces in this design are so small that from a distance it doesn’t look a mosiac so much as an oil painting. The same goes, too, for the group of musicians found in the so-called Villa of Cicero. Imagining these things in situ makes one marvel at how some housesin Pompeii must have looked.
The same goes for the wall paintings: whether mythological heroes, imitation garden scenes, portraits or still lifes, you can’t help but think about how visual the town must have been; how (for some at least) these images must have been part of the furniture of everyday living, and how lucky we are to still have them today.
The rooms devoted to the Villa of the Papyri were off-limits, and only half the Farnese sculptures were visible, but hopefully a second visit will prove more rewarding. In the meantime, there’s Herculaneum tomorrow to look forward to!