Last Supper in Pompeii
The terror of when time stood still in AD 79 and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed the town of Pompeii, is vividly recreated in this exhibition. An entire town was suddenly engulfed in lava. It is ironic that what has been preserved since has given us such fascinating insights into the Roman way of life.
Its theme is their eating and drinking habits, the way they entertained, the artefacts they used and the food they produced in such a fertile area. The various parts of a Roman villa are recreated on screens and we see how the building was decorated for the purposes of enhancing the status of the owner.
Visitors are greeted, appropriately, by a statue of Bacchus, followed by some fascinating Etruscan cremation urns where the dead, sculpted as reclining figures, offer libations to the gods. There are also examples of the painted tomb panels of Paestum in Greece which are decorated colourfully but crudely. We then enter a reimagining of what an imposing Roman villa was like, beginning with the Atrium, its main entrance, which was decorated to impress.
Some beautiful frescoes, especially examples from the House of the Golden Bracelet, adorn the walls and there are some recreations on screens of how the interior of this villa would have looked. There is the peaceful background sound of birds singing and also that of water dripping from gorgeously designed fountains. A frieze of feasting figures gives a sense of joie de vivre, as yet undisturbed by the horror that is about to descend. This adds an extra poignancy to the mosaic of a skeleton which is given much prominence. It is a reminder of the shortness of life and therefore the need to enjoy it.
There are some amazing exhibits, most memorably a statue of Silenus, cradling the baby Bacchus and possessing one gargantuan foot as well as a gigantic phallus-shaped lamp. A special section is devoted to the Romans in Britain, which has obvious relevance to us.
There is also a reimagining of the kitchens, where slaves prepared the meals, and examples of food which was carbonised after the catastrophe.
An exhibit of a pig, caught in its death throes, seems macabrely incongruous. The Lady from Oplontis, the famous resin cast of the body of a wealthy young woman who contorts in agony as she is asphyxiated, is memorably horrifying.
This is an exhibition which is mostly about worldly pleasures, yet the title has a perversely religious echo. The vengeance wrought by this volcanic eruption on an ordinary town could have been by a vengeful deity and is a terrifying illustration of the lottery that is human life …. whichever god you pray to.