Sunday, January 26, 2014

Day 31-Manly MAN.

(originally posted on facebook July 12, 2013)

Ok- this is it! We're only going to stay one more week. I promise. 

The MAN I'm referring to above is the Museo Archeologico di Napoli, where all the choicest bits of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabia, Boscoreale, Boscotrecase, and several other Roman era sites from the Bay of Naples ended up. Just like us. Seriously though, this is one major collection of antique art, including sculptures, mosaics, frescoes, and bits of architecture. I had to limit myself to the frescoes and mosaics or we would have been there a whole other day! As it was I took 600 photos, including a shot of every piece of fresco that was on display (a few weren't- just to make sure I come back next time. There's also a ton of architectural fragments I'd like to shoot some day.)
Entry to the MAN is in the traditional combination of red stucco and gray tufa stone ornament. You see this combo all over Napoli.

Our last minute train station hotel was actually rather nice (and cheap- 60 Euros- Thanks Rick Steves!) (I'm planning to do a wrap up report with all the travel details so I don't forget, and so others can use the info too.) Used the metro system to go up the hill and went up to the museum for the second time on this trip- the first time the fresco collection was closed and we left in a huff.
Don't know who he is, but I like his attitude!

We first went to the hall of mosaics, culled from many famous houses of the area- the House of the Faun in Pompeii has a whole room to itself. The fineness of these pieces is incredible! The Alexander the Great Battle scene, which was on the floor in the House of the Faun, is about 8 feet tall and maybe 16 feet across, and it's done with tiles that are no larger that 1/4 inch, if that! Some of the other large pieces verge on micro-mosaic technique. The coolest thing about mosaic is how the colors don't change over time, and they can be cleaned very well, so you get an "as new" impression except for where the tesserae are missing. It also informs ones view of how good the painting must have been then.

Mosaic from Pompeii

Tucked behind the mosaic collection is the infamous "Gabinetto Segreto" the (formerly) secret room full of erotic art that until the 1960s was only viewable by special appointment, and only to men- no women or children. The presence of phalli and other erotica is now open to all, and the meaning and mythology is pretty well explained by numerous placards in Italian and English. Good stuff!

"Is that really how you feel?"

Enough with the antipasti, it's time for the main course. Had a minor moment of panic when we went through the hall of objects to where I had gone in to the frescoes last time, only to find a barricade and people doing some kind of photo work behind it. Before I completely melted on the floor, a nice museum docent explained that the bulk of the frescos were open- just go in a different door! Whew!

Even the hallways in between the galleries are pretty spectacular!

I'm not sure whether it was better to have visited the sites first and finished up with dessert or to have had this in mind as we looked at all the more weathered bits; in any case it was a treat to see all these well preserved and well documented fragments in one place. Again the fineness of the work is astonishing- there are faces that look as if they were painted with a five-ought brush, and the range of treatments from highly ornamental to accomplished figurative and landscape painting, tragic to comic, shows a complete mastery of technique and rhetoric. 

Look at how finely painted this is- it only measures about 5 inches across!

I literally took at least one photo of every piece in the frescoes section- sometimes 5 or 6! Not only is it technically very interesting, it's also work that has been highly influential throughout the history of art until this century, when most artists seem to have deliberately forgotten it. You know what they say about forgetting history, don't you?

I love the frieze supported by figures motif. I hope to use it at the Villa Tramonto if it gets back on track.
After fine tooth combing that section we perused more leisurely through the hall with household objects. This is the other aspect of Pompeii and Vesuvius' other victims. There are so many pristine 2,000 year old objects here- it really shows the level of sophistication the Romans had gotten to. All kinds of kitchen utensils and tools, drawing instruments, ceramics and glassware of incredible variety, bathroom things, they even have a couple of specula for giving gynecological exams- they look remarkably like their modern counterparts. 

Bowls of powdered pigments found at Pompeii and Herculaneum, in some cases right next to the frescos that were being worked on.
Finished up there with a spin through the wing devoted to nothing but things gleaned from the Villa dei Papiri- the mansion on the edge of Herculaneum that was copied more or less for the Getty Villa in Los Angeles. Besides the trove of papyrus scrolls that it is named for (and which they think may soon be decipherable through modern technological means without unrolling) there is a huge assortment of sculptures both marble and bronze. 
There are several rooms that have nothing but items from the Villa di Papiri in Herculaneum. It must have been a veritable museum itself.
We've now made it back to Rome and have found a wonderful replacement for the Casa Stinky; a very nice apartment in Trastevere with a real kitchen, a washing machine, and a good internet connection. We're all set for one more week of adventures!

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