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Cleveland Museum of Art opens The Last Days of Pompeii. Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection

Cleveland Museum of Art presents The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection an exhibition on view from February 24 through July 7, 2013, featuring nearly 100 works.

Francesco Netti
After a Gladiator Fight During a Meal in Pompeii, 1880. Francesco Netti (Italian, 1832–1894). Oil on canvas; 115 x 208 cm. Museo di Capodimonte, Fototeca della Soprintendenza per il P.S.A.E. e per il Polo Museale della Città di Napoli.

The international loan exhibition explores how an ancient catastrophe has become a modern muse for generations of artists. Organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum, the title of the exhibition, The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection, is inspired by Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Last Days of Pompeii, an incredibly popular 1834 novel (download here) that combined a Victorian love story with sensational subplots of pagan decadence, Christianity, and volcanic eruption. The book was presented as archaeologically accurate and helped transform Pompeii into a place to stage fiction. It captivated generations of readers, prompted tourists to visit the site and inspired many works of art in a wide variety of media.

Mixing chronology and media, the exhibition breaks down according to three broad themes. Decadence looks at why we consider Pompeii as a place of luxury, sex, violence and excess. Apocalypse explores Pompeii as the archetype of disaster—the cataclysm to which all others are compared—from the American Civil War and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to 9/11. And Resurrection considers how Pompeii has become a place to re-create and recast the ancient past.

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