Representations of Pompeii and Herculaneum Over Time

Representations of Pompeii and Herculaneum Over Time

Since their initial discovery the cities of Vesuvius have captured the imagination of millions of people around the world. The back drop to numerous television programs, movies, novels, songs and even rock concerts, Pompeii and Herculaneum have remained a constant feature in popular culture.

Early Representations of Pompeii

Visited by numerous famous people throughout the centuries, perhaps one of Pompeii's earliest notable tourist, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, explored the city in 1769. It has been said that his opera, The Magic Flute, which was set in ancient Egypt, was inspired by his time visiting Pompeii and witnessing the remains of the Temple of Isis, one of the first buildings excavated at the site. Open to visitors for the next century, in 1828 Russian painter, Karl Bryullov, journeyed to the famous remains in the hope of inspiration. What resulted from this visit was Bryullov's most famous work, entitled The Last Day of Pompeii.

The Last Day of Pompeii

Capturing the horror, confusion and terror of the event, Bryullov's painting inspired other works of literature that focused on Pompeii, the eruption and its aftermath. Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1834 novel, The Last Days of Pompeii, is one of these works inspired by the painting.  The novel, which culminated with the eruption of Mt Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii, paints first century Roman life as decadent, sinful and ready for its end. Morality, or the decline of it, was a concern in Bulwer-Lytton's novel, perhaps reflecting his own concerns at the time. The Last Days of Pompeii was hugely popular both at the time of its publication and for many decades after.

The Last Days of Pompeii

Further Resources

For more information on the initial representation of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the 18th and 19th centuries see the websites, articles and books listed below.

Living with the Ancient Romans: Past and Present in Eighteenth-Century Encounters with Herculaneum and Pompeii

Exhuming Pompeii and Herculaneum in the Eighteenth-Century

The Appreciation of Pompeii’s Architectural Remains in the Late 18th and Early 19th Century

Pompeii, the Body, and the Imprint of the Ancient World

From Paris to Pompeii: French Romanticism and the Cultural Politics of Archaeology

Pompeii in Pop Culture: Music

Since the mid 18th century Pompeii has provided inspiration to a range of diverse musicians and performers, including classical composers such as Mozart and rock bands such as Pink Floyd. Pompeii has featured in songs, albums and operas, whilst the site itself has hosted performances from some of the world’s leading musicians.

Pompeii and Herculaneum in Museum Exhibitions

Further Resources

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