Thursday, October 03, 2013

‘Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum’

3 October 2013

Almost a year ago we visited Pompeii for the first time and were bowled over by the scale of the site and the size of the preserved buildings. So we had been looking forward to seeing the exhibition ‘Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum’ at The British Museum. It was so difficult to get tickets for the exhibition when we booked, in May this year, that we ended up going on the final day last Sunday. There were huge crowds waiting for a last chance to see the well-preserved relics of Roman life and, even with the timed ticket system, you had to be very patient to get close to each of the exhibits. The excellent audio guide proved a very useful way to pass the time while queuing. ‘Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum’ wasn’t a very big exhibition but that meant it was possible to explore everything it contained – and this took us a good ninety minutes. The exhibition was laid out in rooms equating to the rooms of a typical Roman villa, making sense of the context of the many artefacts. The quality of preservation of the wooden objects from Herculaneum was amazing. We were also struck by how overtly sexual (by modern standards) many of the pictures and sculptures were. There was one particularly explicit piece (if you’ve seen the exhibition you will know the one I mean!) that was located in a small side room with a notice by the entrance suggesting it wasn’t suitable for children. While I was there one father was getting exasperated by the enthusiasm of his young son (who must have been 7 or 8 years old) to see whatever it was his dad didn’t want him to see. In response to the boy’s pleading “why?” the man eventually shouted “because I’m your father and I’m exercising moral judgement!”. The casts of the bodies of some of the volcano’s victims, captured in agonising poses at the moment of death, provided an eerie and moving end to the exhibition. 



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