Looks an interesting exhibition. Take no notice of the couple of slips in the Latin.
Exhibit shows how wealthy Romans lived
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
By Roger Green
Booth Arts Writer
TOLEDO, Ohio — People know about Pompeii, and to a lesser extent Herculaneum. Both Roman cities were destroyed when Mount Vesiuvius erupted in 79 A.D. — a calamity detailed in books, poems and lately epic films.
Less familiar is Stabiano, a nearby villa colony on the Bay of Naples, where ancient Rome's rich and powerful summered. Stabiano also was buried in pumice and ash when Vesiuvius exploded, and has since been excavated. Archaeological digs, begun in 1749 and still progressing, show that home life for Rome's super-privileged was privileged indeed.
Finds from digs demonstrate how visually splendid and technologically advanced Stabiano's seaside villas were. Relatively under-appreciated till now, the sumptuous villas are examined in a stunning traveling exhibit, “In Stabiano,” at the Toledo Museum of Art through Jan. 28.
Displayed at the museum are detailed scale models, floor plans, sculptures, artifacts and fragments of the complex frescoes that once adorned interior walls. Also featured are virtual tours of computer-re-created villas, in all their pristine, chromatic glory.
Four mega villas and one so-called villae rusticae — the luxurious dwelling place on a working farm — are explored. From text, we learn that these sumptuous residences covered enormous areas: the Villa Arianna, for example, encompassed more than 150,000 square feet, the Villa del Pastore more than 200,000. Constructed on terraced levels, the sprawling villas included tunnels, ramps and upper rooms arranged to frame views of gardens and Naples' bay.
The disposition of rooms and their uses followed strict conventions; because the villas were used both for living and conducting business — read power brokering — social status and public/private distinctions were issues. Galleries at the museum are arranged in imitation of the villas' major spaces.
These included the atrium or main hall, to which all visitors were admitted. Other spaces, progressively more private, were the tablinum (library), triclinium (dining room) and cubicula (bedrooms). Also included were the culina (kitchen) and balnae (baths).
The gallery re-creating the triclinium is the most elaborate and instructive for illustrating Roman standards of luxury. A so-called three-couch dining room, it was originally furnished with low couches on which diners reclined. Food was arrayed on a large central table (mensa) or on several smaller ones. The couches were positioned in thoughtful relation to garden views.
Decorating three walls are preserved frescoes portraying Bacchus, Neptune, Ceres and other mythological figures. The frescoes, from Stabiano's Villa Carmiano, evidenced the owner's prestige and wealth, and were intended to dazzle visiting politicos and business clients.
In all, the exhibit includes 26 fresco fragments portraying mythological figures. The remaining frescoes are smaller than those on the triclinium's walls, but no less important historically. Fortuitously preserved by ash, the Stabiano frescoes count among the very few examples of Roman painting extant today.
Most surprising is the ingeniousness of the villas' baths, with their sophisticated plumbing. The Villa Petraro, for example, included a thermal complex in the classic Roman style: Three, progressively cooler baths — calidarium, tepidarium and frigidarium — permitted users to therapeutically open and close their pores. Heat from furnaces came from hidden clay pipes.
Today's mega mansions have nothing on Stabiano's villas. Visitors to the exhibit may regret the comparative modesty of even luxury, contemporary housing. But they'll leave understanding the tradition to which such housing belongs.
YOU GO: The Toledo Museum of Art is at 2445 Monroe St. Hours are 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (to 10 p.m. Friday) and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call (419) 255-8000 or access http://www.toledomuseum.org.
To contact Roger Green, call (734) 994-6955 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org