Ashes to Ashes : Montreal Beaux Arts Pompeii Exhibiton
The exhibition features many art objects like this Isis, as well as objects from daily life.
Pompeii was an ancient roman city near Naples, which, in 79AD was suddenly buried by 6 meters of volcanic ash falling from Mount Vesuvius.
The exhibit is all very interesting, if somewhat textbook in presentation, until suddenly you enter a room that contains these plaster casts of the victims bodies.
These plaster figures are people who might have perished in the fumes, falling ash and fires, and were encased by a hundred mile and hour landslide of liquefied earth emerging from the final collapse of the volcano.
There were over a thousand bodies preserved in this kind of natural sculptural mold. Sort of the opposite of fossilization. A void was left in the sea of pumice enclosing the bodies – rather than the people being turned to stone, as it appears at first glance.
They are captured in considerable detail. I had the impression I could see imprints of their clothing. There are no features, or hair. And some of the postures seem to indicate the pugilist stance – typical of death by fire.
I have read they no longer make these plasters, as the process destroys the skeletal remains. These actual objects might have been made before world war two. I can’t say for sure if they are the original impressions from the ash. But I expect so.
This is a chilling end to what at first seems like just another exhibition of classical roman vases and statues. This final room is undeniably moving.
There is something in our culture right now in which these images of apocalypse are all around us. We can’t help but stand and look, and think about our own future. We see climate change and over-consumption bringing disasters. Not always on the scope of Vesuvius. But still. How can we not look at these ancient Romans and think a little bit about our insignificance in the face of nature.