Pompeii is brought to life – and light – in an exhibition weaving together objects that survived the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, with digital light installations and virtual-reality displays of Pompeiian dwellings.
The exhibition, New Light from Pompeii, currently showing at the Staatliche Antikensammlungen München in Germany, explores how artificial light was created and used by Romans after sundown to illuminate spaces for banqueting, religion, and magic.
It has been curated by Professor Dr Ruth Bielfeldt and her team at the Institute for Classical Archaeology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU).
Among the artefacts on display are 180 original bronze objects from the Naples National Archaeological Museum and the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, which include oil lamps, candelabra, lamp stands, and torch-holders.
‘The exhibition is part of a scientific project dedicated to rediscover Ancient light art,’ says Bielfeldt. ‘Our experimental tests on bronze replicas show, for the first time, the intriguing optical effects of Roman light implements.’
Many of the objects have never before been seen by the public, and some have been restored especially for this project.
Lamps crafted by the well-known Munich lighting designer Ingo Maurer are also interspersed throughout the exhibition.
One of the highlights is the ‘Virtual Triclinium’ – a reconstruction of a banquet room from the House of Julius Polybius in Pompeii. Using a VR headset, visitors can explore the room as it was before the eruption in AD 79. Taking on the role of a triclinarius, visitors are invited to light the lamps in the room with a splinter of pine.
In the ‘Hygge Room’ – named for the Danish word translating as a feeling of snug togetherness in cozy light – visitors can experience an atmospheric light installation that contrasts together modern LED designs with the focal glow of antiquity (by an electrified Roman lamp replica).
‘Today, with the omnipresence of electricity, we have forgotten what key role light plays in human life,’ says Bielfeldt. ‘It is a product of human creativity and creative vision, and as such it is worth rediscovering. In this, Antiquity can inspire us.’
New Light from Pompeii runs at the Staatliche Antikensammlungen München until 2 April 2023. To see more details and how to book, visit: www.antike-am-koenigsplatz.mwn.de.
The accompanying catalogue with 790 first-rate photographs provides a comprehensive introduction into the practices, aesthetics, and atmospheres of Roman light cultures.
Ruth Bielfeldt, Johannes Eber, Susanne Bosche, Florian Knauß, and Amelie Lutz (Eds.)(2022), Neues Licht aus Pompeji, (ISBN 978-3-96176-207-1), https://www.na-verlag.de/programm/n/nh/nhd/nhda/neues-licht-aus-pompeji-2/.