The discovery of frescoes

By Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Couple with masks (45-79 d.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Charles
of Bourbon, who had recently become king of Naples, authorized Roque
Joaquin de Alcubierre, a Spanish engineer who was in charge of the
construction of the royal palace in Portici, to use four of the seven
hundred workers to go on with the archaeological excavation, after
the fortuitous discovery of some ancient artefacts.It was almost
by chance that, in 1738, the ancient city of Herculaneum, buried by
Vesuvius in 79 AD, was discovered. Ten years later, in 1748, the
research focused on Pompeii, and then the following year Stabia.

One
year after the first discoveries, scholars began to dispute over the
removing of the paintings, a method that would be used until the end
of the 19th century, when it was decided to leave the
decorations inside the building, and to protect the paintings by
adding roofs.

Medea (62-79 d.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Cutting out portions of frescoed walls was not a simple operation, but a proper technique was soon developed and it rarely caused accidents. Cuttings were made around the portion to be removed. Small wooden planks were inserted inside the cuts and fixed with iron rivets. The wall was then cut from behind and a rigid support, usually a slate slab, was inserted and fixed with a binder. The wooden box was later used as support for the frame, with crystal panes to protect the paintings.

Sacrifice of Iphigenia (45-79 d.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Camillo Paderni was the Keeper of the Herculaneum Museum, set up in the residence of Portici, Palazzo Caramanico, from 1752 to 1781. He was in charge of the decision of stripping the mural paintings. With great care, Paderni also chose the paintings to be permanently damaged, perhaps on account of a misunderstanding, perhaps to prevent them being taken away and fall into the wrong hands. This routine was harshly criticized, both inside and outside Naples.

Flora (1-45 d.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The paintings to be cut out from the walls were chosen according to the subjects depicted. They consisted of different scenes and tableau, panels, particular accessories, regardless of the position on the wall and of their dimension.

Theseus the Liberator (45-79 d.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Clearly, the choice fell on the paintings with mythological subjects.

Cupid seller (1-45 d.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Genre panting, such as the scene with the so-called "Cupid seller", soon became one of the best-known subjects in the collection.

Dancers (1-37 d.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

They were "as fluid as thought and as lovely as if they had been crafted by hand of the Graces". This is Winckelmann describing the small female figures with billowing veils, in a letter to the Count of Bruhl (1762). The painted wall fragments were put together, after the detachment from the so-called Villa of Cicero in Pompeii, to form a sort of continuous frieze.

Dancers, 1-37 d.C., From the collection of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
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Satyrs (1-37 d.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The small figures of Satyrs tightrope walkers have been slightly sketched with quick strokes. They look amazing in their extraordinary vitality.

Satyrs, 1-37 d.C., From the collection of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
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Satyrs, 1-37 d.C., From the collection of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
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Priests of Isis, 1-50 d.C, From the collection of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
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The images with the priests of Isis have been painted on a white background.

Panther, 1-37 d.C., From the collection of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
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Representation of animals

Still-life painting, 45-79 d.C., From the collection of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
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Still-life painting represented minor features, executed with great technical skills.

Candelabra, 1-37 d.C., From the collection of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
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"Pastiche" made with similar decorative elements, such as the metal candelabra bearing vegetal motifs, garlands, lotus flowers and little birds resting on garlands.

Pastiche, 10-37 d.C., From the collection of: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
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"Pastiche" made with different fragments, often broken into several parts at the bottom of a wall.

Panel with still-life painting (62-79 d.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Even larger surfaces were taken away: in 1755 the archaeologists removed the wall belonging to the tablinum of the estate of Iulia Felix – almost five meters long and three meters high.

Pastiche of painted wall fragments (45-79 d.C.)Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

The impact of these images on the eighteenth-century European artistic milieu was really great, but this is a different story ...

Credits: Story

Photo credits Luigi Spina

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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