by Eleanor Edwards, Special Contributor
Last night, September 25, theaters all around the United States screened "Pompeii from the British Museum", an 'exclusive private view of a major exhibition'. The show was excellent and in many ways better than the “in person” experience.
This special screening did not include the shoulder to shoulder crowd experience of visiting the British Museum in person. Instead the audience was shown around the empty exhibit space by leading experts in various fields related to the study of the Roman Empire.
The exhibit emphasizes the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The objects exhibited are meant to evoke an appreciation of both the ordinary working people and the more privileged. What did these people think about, how did they get ready for the day, what did they eat, how did they pass their leisure hours, how did they live in their houses? The exhibit itself is laid out like a typical home of a more privileged Pompeiian.
The introduction to the exhibit was made by Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, who pointed out the interesting motif of the dog that runs throughout the exhibit and serves as a common reference between the viewer and the residents of this ill-fated household.
Mary Beard, Classicist from Cambridge, took us around the the cubiculum (bedroom) and discussed the more intimate thoughts, dreams and desires of the residents. This provided a brief look into the possible ways of looking at particular objects of art displayed in the home (much made of the propensity for “willy waving” among the men of the time). But what Professor Beard brought to this experience was her unbridled enthusiasm and excitement for the subject. It was great fun to look at the exhibit with her.
At the British Museum in August, I found it was almost impossible to see and take in the relevance of each object so one tact was to choose a few favorites to swoop in on when there was a break in the crowd. For me those were the kitchen items. This behind the scenes presentation certainly added to my previous enjoyment of those objects when taken around by the Italian chef Giorgio Locatelli. We could really appreciate the beauty of everyday objects like a colander and the ferocity of the dormouse, a favorite delicacy.
One area that I completely missed was the display of items found in the drains of Herculaneum. Being show these items by the resident drains expert, Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, brought real immediacy to what had been an overlooked display. He also brought up the controversial question regarding the continued excavation of the site versus the view that, for now, the focus should be the conservation of what has been already uncovered.
In 90 minutes, through both reenactments and expert analysis, Pompeii from the British Museum provided an engaging look at this exhibit. While not every item is examined, and a few favorites are notably missing, this event is well worth attending whether of not you have been to the British Museum exhibit.
The British Museum also has an application for iPhones and iPads, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Here's a link to the museum's exhibit which closes on September 29.
Fathom Events will show "Vermeer and Music" at theaters on October 10, 2013.