Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano #ROMPeii

Disclaimer: I work at the Royal Ontario Museum, and do not have to pay the fee to see the exhibition (but I’m also a ROM Member). I was not involved in any way with the development of the exhibition, however.

In the week leading up to the opening of Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano at the Royal Ontario Museum there was an animation of the smoking peak of Vesuvius on the outside of the building. It got a little worse as the days went on – this was taken on Thursday night:

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Then on Friday evening, there was this explosive display:

It was pretty spectacular! But does the exhibition itself live up to this excitement?

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Much of it is fairly understated story of what life was like in Pompeii, to establish context. Although I’d seen a lot in UK/Euro museums about Roman life, the items on display are all very specific to Pompeii & daily life there, which piqued my interest. On top of that, there was a lot of great information about the geology of the area & how the eruption played out.

Displays on what everyday people wore, as well as nobles and the military started off the exhibition. There’s a great spot to see if you can tie a toga on and have it look as badass as the ones in the marble statues.

Getting my toga on! #FNLROM #ROMpeii

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Information dipped into theatre, religion and sex too. Pompeii had quite a thriving drama scene, it seems – two major stadiums! I had no idea. (The first image below is that of two statues of actors). And then I was also enlightened to the fact that phalluses were a sign of good luck in ancient Pompeii/Rome, which explains this super fancy windchime.

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That last image is of an earthquake scene Pompeii had survived prior to the massive eruption – what a volatile area of the Mediterranean to live in. But it seems like overall, it was a beautiful area to live, right on the water with a gorgeous mountain right there and thriving marketplaces. I was most taken by the carbonized food remains found at Pompeii – as much as anything, an amazing snapshot of people’s tastes and diets. (Just don’t read too much into how they made fish sauce…) Bread, figs and olives, oh my!

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So – society, military, religion, fine foods.. what left but art? Gorgeous and usually functional pieces, friezes & mosaics pepper the exhibition. The glass at the end was found, likely having been trapped in an enclosed space set on fire by the eruption.

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Ocean mosaic #ROMpeii

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Thought maybe the #torontopeacock had come out to see #ROMpeii for a moment..

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_DSF6899Of course, everyone knows that the story of Pompeii won’t have a happy ending. Moving through the exhibiton, near the end you will find yourself in a darkish space – a statue slightly in the distance, doomy gloomy lighting and a projection of Vesuvius erupting on the far wall. An infographic off to the side lays out a lot of the geological information, and the timeline that the residents of Pompeii would have experienced – and the time at which it would’ve been too late for them.

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After this, there’s a stark space that hosts a number of casts of the victims of the eruption, prone in their poses of death. The focus on their remains and their stories is really well done, with nothing to detract from that. (As opposed to the cast of the dog, pictured below, which is actually at the very start of the exhibition, and a pretty distressing thing to see straight up front.) I won’t show them all, as I think it’s worth going through the exhibition to learn about the lives the people of Pompeii led, and how unfortunate their deaths were.

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I think the sombre end to the exhibition is the best way to finish the story of Pompeii, without going on afterward. My overall impression is the flow & design of the space weaves through the displays very well (although some parts are prone to bottleneck). Lighting is great, reproductions of art used for negative spaces & bare walls makes a huge difference in enjoying the exhibition, and breathes some life into it. I especially thought the dramatic “eruption” space with the gloomy/flickering lighting was effective.

Even though most of my visits have been fairly brief, I’ve had a chance to learn some key information and facts, because the text isn’t presented in overwhelming chunks. Short blurbs, quotes, etc draw the viewer in easily, and those more keen on finding out more can read on further – and I think the very focused nature of the exhibition and its story overall can help stave off visitor fatigue. It definitely makes a visit to just one part of a very large museum easier, too.

If you’re in Toronto and want to check out #ROMpeii (best hashtag ever, am I right?) then it’s running until January 3rd 2016. It’s an engaging look at the life and death of Pompeiians, with family interactives and great information. There’s a lot of events going on, too. And if you’d like to read something about the exhibition not by me, head to Justin & Lauren’s blog about it here. (They’ve even been to the real Pompeii!)

Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano runs until January 3rd 2016. Tickets are inclusive of general admission and cost: $28 adults | $25.50 students/seniors | $20 children 4-14 years (toddlers 3 & under are free) | Members FREE.

The ROM is open daily 10am – 5.30pm (and to 6.30pm on Fridays), except December 25th. Check out Best Value Fridays after 4.30pm!

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