Roman Art and Archaeology (Pearson)

Detail of the famous Nile Mosaic, centerpiece of the collections at the Palestrina Archaeological Museum. Field Report: Excavation, analysis, and collections research in Pompeii and Rome


Roman Art and
Archaeology in
Pompeii and Rome

 

Archaeological
Research Facility

Stahl Field Report

November 2011

Stephanie Pearson,
Ph.D. Candidate
History of Art, UC Berkeley

Fig. 1. Members of the VCP study one of the beautiful paintings preserved in the Villa Imperiale, Pompeii — a residence closed to the casual visitor.
  Members of the Via Consolare Project study one of the beautiful paintings preserved in the Villa Imperiale, Pompeii — a residence closed to the casual visitor.

This summer saw my fourth field season in Pompeii with the Via Consolare Project (VCP; based at San Francisco State University) and my third season as a staff member.  Because the chance to work at Pompeii is crucial both for my training as a scholar of ancient art and for my dissertation research on ancient Roman wall painting, I was very pleased to be able to continue my work there this year with a generous grant by the Stahl Endowment Fund.
    During the 2011 field season, as part of the VCP team, I helped to complete excavation of our primary trench as well as to initiate a second one.  We continued processing all excavated artifacts (practicing total recovery), including analyzing and drawing pottery, and succeeded in processing all finds up to the present; there is no backlog.  As a complement to these research methods we also completed our noninvasive study of the standing remains in several key sectors of our research area.  We wrote and submitted the preliminary written field report and are currently preparing it for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
    For my dissertation research as well, working at Pompeii this season afforded me several extraordinary opportunities.  One of the most important of these was the chance to visit and photograph the Pompeian houses containing well-preserved paintings usually closed to visitors.  These paintings — the focus of my dissertation project — are so often poorly published, inaccessible, or severely degraded that studying them in person was an unparalleled benefit to my research.  Firsthand analysis and recording is vital for discerning certain vital details: in some cases, for instance, large areas of a painting have been repainted in the modern period and therefore cannot be used to support an interpretation about their ancient significance.  The frequency of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century restorations of these paintings, which were conducted with a mind to making them as seamless as possible with the original material, makes this a serious concern for scholars working from photographic reproductions.  Observing these paintings firsthand forestalls potential problems caused by these modern interventions.

Fig. 2. Cubiculum B of the ancient Roman Villa Farnesina, newly reinstalled in the galleries of the Roman National Museums - Palazzo Massimo. In addition to my work in Pompeii, the Stahl Endowment Fund allowed me to pursue research in Rome using several world-famous collections of Roman painting and related materials.  Among the Roman National Museums, the Palazzo Massimo houses one of the most important exhibits of ancient Roman wall painting in the region; the preservation and display of the paintings, the chronological span of the pieces displayed, and the sheer number of stellar examples makes this a very rich resource indeed.  This summer I was delighted to find that these precious holdings have been reinstalled with beautiful new lighting techniques, such that analysis and photography both revealed much that had before been obscured.
Cubiculum B of the ancient Roman Villa Farnesina, newly reinstalled in the galleries of the Roman National Museums - Palazzo Massimo.  

  This summer I was delighted to find that these precious holdings have been reinstalled with beautiful new lighting techniques, such that analysis and photography both revealed much that had before been obscured.

Just outside of Rome, I visited the archaeological site and museum of Palestrina to study the mosaics there.  These provide valuable iconographical comparanda across media for Roman painting.  In addition, gaining access to a usually closed part of the site with an important (and infrequently photographed) mosaic made this site visit all the more productive.  I am grateful to the Stahl Endowment Fund for making possible such a fruitful research season.

Fig. 3. Detail of the famous Nile Mosaic, centerpiece of the collections at the Palestrina Archaeological Museum. This sacral scene and its parallels in Roman painting are central to my dissertation project.

 

Detail of the famous Nile Mosaic, centerpiece of the collections at the Palestrina Archaeological Museum. This sacral scene and its parallels in Roman painting are central to my dissertation project.