17 December 2011, as part of the Year of Italy in Russia and Year of Russia in Italy, an exhibit entitled Herculaneum Antiquities was held in the State Hermitage Museum in the General Staff Building; it was jointly organized by the State Hermitage Museum, the Ministry for the Preservation of the Cultural Heritage of Naples and Pompeii with the support of the Italian embassy in Moscow, and Consulate General in St. Petersburg. This is the first exhibit to give the Russian public a chance to view these world-famous works of classical sculpture, discovered at the ancient city of Herculaneum, which like Pompeii and Stabia, perished during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, and was also well preserved.
All of these artifacts, which once decorated the so-called Basilica or Augusteum (a building for ceremonies of the Imperial cult), are now held in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. At this exhibit, they have been brought together in one place, as a united whole, with additional cartographic materials, reconstructions, data from archaeological and historical research, which make it possible to get a sense of how Augusteum might have looked two thousand years ago and in what sequence and part of the building the exhibit items were placed.
First and foremost are the colossal sculptures of the Julio-Claudian emperors, Augustus and his successor Claudius. This is the first time that classical sculpture of such size brought from other museums can be seen at the Hermitage. The classical bronze sculptures present particular interest; they are extremely rare in the collections of the world’s museums and have never been seen as temporary exhibits at the Hermitage before.
The famous frescos from Herculaneum have particular artistic value. They have been well-known since the end of the 18th century, when the first systematic excavations began at Herculaneum. These artifacts have been used to study painting and high style, and many Russian and European artists have been inspired by them. The classical frescos of Herculaneum, Stabia and Pompeii are rightly considered the source of classicism in European art. Specialists hold that these frescos are Roman copies from the 60-70’s made from more ancient Greek originals that depicted plots from classical mythology.
The frescos from Herculaneum that depict Medea, the main character in Euripides’ tragedy, are often reproduced in textbooks on mythology and art history. This mother, driven to despair, prepares to kill her children. Medea embodies the greatness of tragedy that is peculiar only to antiquity. The fresco depicting Achilles and his teacher, the centaur Chiron, is also extraordinarily famous.
The Herculaneum Antiquities is the first major exhibit to open in the restored facilities of the General Staff Building, built according to Italian architect K.I. Rossi’s design in 1829. One of the covered courtyards of the building, a huge space, full of air and light with a staircase that recalls a Roman amphitheatre, has been selected to show these classical artifacts. This environment corresponds very well with the scale of the items being exhibited and serves well to emphasize their worth. The Herculaneum Antiquities is a great conclusion to the year of Russia in Italy and year of Italy in Russia.
The curators of the exhibit are: Professor Stefano de Caro, the General Director for the heritage of antiquity at the Italian Ministry of Culture on the Italian side, Anna Trofimova, Head of the Antiquities Department, Ph.D. in Art history and Elena Borisovna Ananich, Senior Research Officer of the Antiquities Department from the Hermitage.
This exhibit was made possible with the help of the Italian companies Enel, Finmeccanica, Terna, and the Italian Postal Service.
At the press-conference