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Herculaneum 1738: the phoenix
The modernity of Neoclassical takes as its model the classical world rediscovered in Herculaneum and Pompeii.
Furniture, furnishings, art objects, books from the 1700s and 1800s inspired by antiquity.
“There is something prodigious in a city that returns to sunlight after centuries.”
With these words Mario Praz, in his book Neoclassical Taste, revives the enthusiasm that aroused at the time the rediscovery, under the layers of solidified lava, of Herculaneum and Pompeii, the two Roman cities buried by the disastrous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 BC.
A casual discovery: in 1709, in the excavation of an irrigation well, fragments of alabaster and precious marble resurfaced. Further excavations bring to light columns, inscriptions, marble statues. The first systematic research began in 1738, commissioned by Charles III: Herculaneum resurfaces. In 1748, under Civita, here is Pompeii.
The news of the findings goes around Europe: artists, scholars, writers, but also the young pupils of the nobility engaged in the canonical Grand Tour, rush to see the excavations and the finds.
The eighteenth-century taste finds itself in the paintings exhibited in the museum of Portici. The Neapolitan discoveries are combined with the contemporary Roman discoveries, the establishment of the large collections of the Pio-Clementino Museum, commissioned by popes Clement XIV and Pius VI to collect the most important Greek and Roman masterpieces kept in the Vatican, the arrangement of the collections of the Alban villas and Borghese, to give life to a new artistic movement, Neoclassicism, which finds in ancient times the ideal expression for its values of balance, composure, measure.
Winckelmann’s studies, which culminate with the publication of the Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums in 1764, consecrate the new ideal of universal Beauty.