In 79 A.D. Mount Vesuvius exploded over the ancient city of Pompeii, at once demolishing its future and preserving its history. Since the site was discovered in the early 1700s, the chance to peer into the past has not only unhinged what we can know but what we can imagine. The first exhibition of its kind, "The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection" visits 400 years of artwork revolving around the history and myth of the ancient city.


The exhibition takes its title from the hugely popular 19th-century Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel of the same name, which melodramatically told the story of Pompeii as one of corruption and seduction. Casting the location in an almost fictitious light of luxury and vice, Bulwer-Lytton inspired the now popular vision of Pompeii as a decadent city deserving of its apocalyptic divine punishment.

Francesco Netti's "Gladiator Fight during a Meal at Pompeii" translates Bulwer-Lytton's words into image, painting a scene dripping with so much drama you'd swear Russell Crowe had to be involved somehow. Scantily clad youths pile on top of couches, and each other, after combat. While they enjoy ornate decor and copious liquor, a corpse is dragged away, unnoticed, though trailing blood. Although dramatic and juicy in that love-to-hate way, the press release states "this scene has little basis in ancient practice," and gladiators rarely fought to the death. Rather than depict a historical past, Netti transposed a critique of his era onto theirs, a practice would explode in years to come.


The exhibition really picks up speed with the later artworks as Pompeii becomes the model for apocalyptic disasters of all kinds, from a natural storm to the atomic bomb. Warhol taps into the rapid pace at which images of Pompeii are referenced and churned out with his piece, titled, "Mount Vesuvius" (1985). The Pop master is known for reproducing serial images until the original becomes unidentifiable and irrelevant, and he gives Vesuvius the same fate. (Or perhaps suggests it shared the fate all along.) Artists including Dali, Rothko, Rauschenberg and many more wrap their imaginations around the iconic tale, retelling it in their individual language.

The imaginative exhibition, which features contemporary art from as late as 2002, will show at the Getty Villa, a Los Angeles replica of an Ancient Roman villa. Whether or not the exhibition depicts Pompeii as it really was is irrelevant, however. When Mt. Vesuvius erupted it ignited the imaginations of countless tourists, artists and dreamers ever since. We can't wait to see the petrified city in all its strange and colorful forms.

"The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection" will show at the Getty Villa from September 12 - January 7.

Who do you think revamps Vesuvius the best? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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  • Creator(s): Sebastian Pether (English, 1790 - 1844) Title/Date: Eruption of Vesuvius with Destruction of a Roman City, 1824 Culture: English Medium: Oil on canvas; frame with wood; attachments imitating lava Dimensions: Unframed: 71.4 x 92 cm (28 1/8 x 36 1/4 in.) Accession No. VEX.2012.2.13 Object Credit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Grant Walker Fund Repro Credit: Photograph © 2012 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

  • Creator(s): Giovanni Maria Benzoni (Italian, 1809 - 1873) Title/Date: Flight from Pompeii, 1873 Culture: Italian Medium: Marble Dimensions: Object: H: 108.5 x W: 68.6 cm (42 11/16 x 27 in.) Base: Diam.: 70 cm (27 9/16 in.) Accession No. VEX.2012.2.16 Object Credit: The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel M. Nickerson

  • Creator(s): Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925 - 2008) Title/Date: Small Rebus, 1956 Culture: American Medium: Oil, graphite, paint swatches, paper, newspaper, magazine clippings, black-white photographs, United States map fragment, fabric, and three-cent stamps on canvas Dimensions: Object: 88.9 x 116.8 x 4.4 cm (35 x 46 x 1 3/4 in.) Framed: 97.5 x 120 x 4.4 cm (38 3/8 x 47 1/4 x 1 3/4 in.) Accession No. VEX.2012.2.33 Copyright: Art © Estate of Robert Rauschenberg/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY Object Credit: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles The Panza Collection

  • Creator(s): Salvador Dali (Spanish, 1904 - 1989) Title/Date: Gradiva Rediscovers the Anthropomorphic Ruins, 1931- 1932 Culture: Spanish Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: Unframed: 65 x 54 cm (25 9/16 x 21 1/4 in.) Framed: 79 x 67.5 x 4 cm (31 1/8 x 26 9/16 x 1 9/16 in.) Accession No. VEX.2012.2.34 Copyright: © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2012 Object Credit: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid Repro Credit: © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

  • Creator(s): Christen Schjellerup Købke (Danish, 1810 - 1848) Title/Date: The Forum, Pompeii, with Vesuvius in the Distance, 1841 Culture: Danish Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: Unframed: 70.8 x 87.9 cm (27 7/8 x 34 5/8 in.) Framed: 83.2 x 101.3 x 4.8 cm (32 3/4 x 39 7/8 x 1 7/8 in.) Accession No. 85.PA.43 Object Credit: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

  • Creator(s): Unknown maker, Italian Title/Date: Wall Fragment with a Cupid Seller, 1st century Culture: Italian Medium: Fresco Dimensions: Unframed: 22.6 x 18.5 cm (8 7/8 x 7 5/16 in.) Framed: 28.6 x 34.5 x 5.5 cm (11 1/4 x 13 9/16 x 2 3/16 in.) Accession No. VEX.2012.2.35 Object Credit: Soprintendenza speciale ai beni archeologici di Napoli e Pompei Repro Credit: Photo: Luigi Spina

  • Creator(s): Francesco Netti (Italian, 1832 - 1894) Title/Date: Gladiator Fight during a Meal at Pompeii, 1880 Culture: Italian Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: Unframed: 115 x 208 cm (45 1/4 x 81 7/8 in.) Accession No. VEX.2012.2.40 Repro Credit: Fototeca della Soprintendenza Speciale per il PSAE e per il Polo

  • Creator(s): Allan McCollum (American, born 1944) Title/Date: The Dog from PompeiI, 1991 Culture: American Medium: Polymer-modified Hydrocal Dimensions: Object (each): 53 x 53 x 53 cm (20 7/8 x 20 7/8 x 20 7/8 in.) Accession No. VEX.2012.2.43 Copyright: Courtesy of Fredrich Petzel Gallery, New York Object Credit: Courtesy of the Artist and Friedrich Petzel Gallery, NY Repro Credit: Photo: Lamay Photo

  • Creator(s): Héctor Leroux (French, 1829 - 1900) Title/Date: Herculaneum, 23 August AD 79, 1881 Culture: French Medium: Oil on canvas Dimensions: Unframed: 188 x 302.3 cm (74 x 119 in.) Framed: 211.5 x 322.8 x 8.8 cm (83 1/4 x 127 1/16 x 3 7/16 in.) Accession No. VEX.2012.2.50 Repro Credit: Photo credit: Scala / White Images / Art Resource, NY

  • Creator(s): Andy Warhol (American, 1928 - 1987) Title/Date: Mount Vesuvius, 1985 Culture: American Medium: Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen Dimensions: Unframed: 72.4 x 81.3 cm (28 1/2 x 32 in.) Framed: 76.2 x 86.4 cm (30 x 34 in.) Accession No. VEX.2012.2.59 Copyright: © 2012 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Object Credit: The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

  • Creator(s): Mark Rothko (American, born Russia, 1903 - 1970) Title/Date: Untitled (Seagram Mural sketch), 1959 Culture: American Medium: Oil and acrylic on canvas Dimensions: Unframed: 183.5 x 152.7 cm (72 1/4 x 60 1/8 in.) Accession No. VEX.2012.2.81 Copyright: © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Object Credit: National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc., 1985.38.2 Repro Credit: Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington

  • Creator(s): Antony Gormley (English, born 1950) Title/Date: Untitled, 2002 Culture: French Medium: Mild steel blocks Dimensions: Object: H: 45 x W: 189 x D: 53 cm, Weight: 223 kg (17 11/16 x 74 7/16 x 20 7/8 in., 491.6258 lb.) Accession No. VEX.2012.2.95 Copyright: © Antony Gormley Object Credit: Collection of Asher Waldfogel and Helyn MacLean Repro Credit: Photograph by Stephen White, London

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