Small Things Not-Forgotten

Herculaneum. The unprepossessing 1970s antiquarium at Herculaneum was intended to be a museum. But this never happened and crowds of visitors bustle by to enter the ‘lost’ sea-town without noticing its existence. Now it has been given a new lease of life with an exhibition – “Splendori. Il lusso negli ornamenti a Ercolano”.

Hydra

Beginning with a statue of Hydra found largely undamaged in the Villa of the Papyri, coquettish in a diaphanous dress, this exhibit is a rare joy. These are the things Herculaneum’s terrified citizens grabbed as an awful fate descended upon them.

A medical kit

There are treasures, of course: gold jewellery and the like. But the real fascination are the medical kits, keys and personal pieces that were lost as the catastrophe overwhelmed the city. No less fascinating are the reminders of the glories of Herculaneum in AD 79. Look at the silver head of Livia, crushed – yes - yet an object far finer than any marble bust of this great matron. Then, too, the wild stallion’s head with its silver inlay that once graced a bed-post.

A bed post

The intricacy of the craftsmanship on display here is perhaps the lasting impression. Yes, the ceramic and glass vessels are well-made, but the bronze work with silver inlay like the gold filigree belong to the apogee of industrial craftsmanship. Like Hydra they are bewitching.

A silver Livia

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