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September 12, 2011

Inspired by Herculaneum, styles fit for Marie Antoinette

Giovannia Battista Piranesi, Side Table. Gilt oak, lime wood, marble, 1768.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
As times changed at the palace of Versailles styles did as well. Madame du Pompadour as patron of the arts, loved the style of the Rococo, and its appeal lasted well through the first half of the 18th century.  With Madame du Barry filling her shoes, and the future king and queen Louis XVI, the Neoclassical style would become en vogue.

 The new trend had early roots in the 18th century, with a renewed interest in ancient Rome.  As early as 1738, a discovery was made at the site of Herculaneum.  The historic town had been buried by volcanic debris, and was twenty meters underground.  Excavation was not easy, but there was much to be discovered and great interest developed.  Buildings, paintings and styles were uncovered that sparked an exciting interest in the art of the past.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, View of the Strada Consulare with the Herculaneum Gate in Pompeii; detail of right half. Drawing, pen and brown ink with wash, 1772-78. British Museum.
This fascination with Herculaneum lasted about a decade, until 1749 when famous Pompeii was discovered.  It is not that Pompeii had more treasures to offer than Herculaneum, but it was much easier to access (not buried quite as much).  It was, however, the first exciting discoveries at Herculaneum that ushered in the popular new style which Marie Antoinette herself was such a fan. Soon motifs from Herculaneum were seen in the furnishings, art and even household items such as coffee pots and writing desks!

So what types of things were our eighteenth century counter parts seeing and being inspired by from this exciting excavation?

Scenographic wall decoration with phantastic architecture and drop curtain. Wall painting/ fresco, 1st century CE.  Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli.


College of Augustales, interior, general view. Primarily 1st century CE. Location: Herculaneum, Italy.

Nymph consulting the Oracle (or Conversation among Women). Wall painting/ fresco, 1st century CE. Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli.


Herculaneum, Terme del Foro, Apodyterium of Women's Baths, Triton.  Herculaneum. mosaic, 60-68 CE. SCALA, Florence/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

Twig with peaches. Wall painting, fresco, 1st century CE. Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli.


House of the Skeleton, fountain. Location: Herculaneum, Italy. Photographer: Susan Silberberg-Pierce.

For more information on the amazing art of Herculaneum, check out this new book!

1 comment

  1. That is so interesting and the gilt table beginning your post is incredible! I can't imagine living somewhere where all of the furniture looked like that! She had pretty spectacular taste!
    Jennelise

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