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Unique exhibition of Roman-era painting in Rome
Updated: 2009-09-25 10:13

Unique exhibition of Roman-era painting in Rome

The "Ulysses and the Sirens", a piece of a fresco taken from the home of a noble Roman, is one of the 100 paintings from an exhibition in Rome called "The Paintings of an Empire", September 24, 2009.[Agencies]

ROME - How did ancient Roman nobles relax when they returned to their homes at night after a hard day's politicking at the Senate or the Forum?

In part by looking at the frescos on the walls of their sumptuous homes -- the "patrician domus" in the capital of the empire or in cities such as Pompeii and Herculaneum.

"The rich Romans liked to create a world of dreams in their homes," said Eugenio La Rocca, curator of a new exhibition "Rome - Paintings of an Empire."

In the past, art lovers would have to travel to numerous museums in Italy and abroad to see the frescoes -- Naples, Pompeii, Rome, Sicily, the Vatican, the Louvre, the British Museum, Berlin's Staatliche and Moscow's Puskin.

But this exhibition offers a one-stop drooling spree for lovers of Roman-era painting.

"This is not an exhibition of archaeology. It's an exhibition of paintings," said La Rocca, as he guided visitors around the exhibition in a building that once housed the horses and carriages of the popes and kings of Italy.

The exhibition includes 100 stunning pieces, most of them frescoes from patrician Roman villas that were discovered in the Rome and Naples areas from the 17th century onwards.

It gives a glimpse into how the Roman nobles decorated their homes with a mix of portraits, snippets of every-day life and scenes from mythology.

Ulysses and the Sirens, from the mid first century A.D. and cut from the wall of a Roman house in the 19th century, shows Ulysses (Odysseus) and his crew steering their ship along a rocky coastline past the lair of the sirens.


There are pastoral scenes of poor farmers and plebeian tradesmen blended with classical buildings that the rich Romans or Pompeians would have passed every day.

"This marks the first time these pieces have been put side by side," said La Rocca.

The exhibition cost 2.2 million euros ($3.24 million) and covers the four major styles of Roman painting covering three centuries.

The halls of the exhibition are dim and each of the works has an individually designed back and front lighting system. Some of the piece are so large that the viewer has a feeling that he might just be a guest in the Roman house.

"The rich ancient Romans wanted to live in houses that seemed like the houses of the Gods of Olympus," La Rocca said "And they wanted to relax in a dream-like atmosphere of satyrs and nymphs."

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