FROM POMPEII to Madame de Pompadour:Games People Play

When the volcano Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, it destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as a host of luxury villas overlooking the Bay of Naples. That ancient tragedy was a gift to the modern world: the pumice and ash that filled homes and displaced tens of thousands of people, also served to preserve the elaborate mural paintings that embellished residential structures.

In the great court of the Temple of Apollo at Pompeii, a bronze statue of the god, pulling back his bowstring, stand in silhouette against the death dealing Vesuvius to his left.

The rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the mid-18th century and its subsequent ,and still ongoing excavation have made it clear that ancient Romans lived in houses that were much more elaborately decorated than our own.

When the ruins of Pompeii came to light, they caused a revolution in taste- stripping away rococo gilt, reshaping the female figure, and leaving a deposit of pseudo-Greek temples from Moscow to Mississippi- although what sometimes passed for “classical” would have bewildered the ancients….

The first discoveries in fact, had little impact upon the taste of Europe. In the first half of the eighteenth-century, rococo was in fashion. The aim was still lightness, grace, asymmetry, and the inconsequential charm of disorder. Buildings were still a riot of movement; artists still aimed at color, gilt, and dazzling richness; porcelain had reached a state of airy perfection in the stream-ice fragility of Vincennes and Sevres that was, perhaps never to be challenged again.

"Sculptures, ornaments, furnishing, fountains, mosaics and personal objects exemplify the superb Roman art, developed to decorate villas and to dress aristocracy. Excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum go back to the end of 18th-century; findings generated enthusiasm during 19th-century for ancient styles, affecting art, design and culture in Europe and eventually the United States, being some rooms at the US Capitol decorated in a Pompeii fashion. "

This was the world into which the art forms of the ancients were reborn: a world symbolized by Boucher’s and Fragonard’s “Fete a Rambouillet” , in which the taste was for blooming roses, tinkling music, and beautiful women clothed in a froth of billowing silk and lace; a world in which “duchesses built dairies, installed a cow in a rococo setting, and to universal applause, milked it into a Sevres vase.”

But if rococo was at its height by the middle of the eighteenth-century , it was also nearing its end. The challenge of the ancient world grew stronger through the 1750’s , gained the upper hand in the sixties, and swept all before it in the seventies. It reigned supreme to the end of the century and beyond, until it in turn was dethroned by the romantic movement in the nineteenth century. As Archibald Alison wrote in 1790 in his “Essays on the nature and Principles of Taste” , “the taste which now reigns is that of the antique. Every thing we now use, is made in imitation of those models which have been lately discovered in Italy”.

"I need to produce great ideas, and I believe that if I were commissioned to design a new universe, I would be mad enough to undertake it." This statement by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, reported by one of his early biographers, in many ways sums up the man whose dreams of antiquity so often surpassed reality, from his earliest etchings of architectural fantasies to the fanciful restorations of ancient remains that he produced at the end of his career. Wendy Thompson .Met.

This classical taste was not the result of the discoveries at Herculaneum and Pompeii alone. In the middle decades of the eighteenth century, there was a host of able and willing allies ready to spread the cities’ fame and publicize its qualities. The Grand Tour all over Europe, the new craze for archaeological publications, the prints of Giambattista Piranesi, the theories of Winckelmann, and the patronage of Sir William and Emma Hamilton at Naples were all vital agents in reawakening interest in the antique.

By 1750 Piranesi’s great series of etchings was well underway. Urns, statues, shattered columns, overturned altars, ruined temples, baths, palaces, and amphitheatres poured from the press. Often they owed more to the artist’s imagination than to historical accuracy- they were overgrown with vegetation, they were the haunt of beggars and thieves, and in their shadows pimps and prostitutes went furtively about their tr

but, they brought the ancient world to life and made Piranesi famous throughout Europe.

Mary Ellen Synon:Mademoiselle O’Murphy was born in France in 1737, the daughter of an Irish officer who had fought for the French crown. At the age of 14, she was ‘talent-spotted’ by Casanova, who mentioned her in his infamous diaries. Boucher painted her nude lying on her stomach in a tousled bed. The picture is now one of the treasures of the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, where it is sometimes known as ‘Our Lady of the Potatoes.’ Boucher showed the picture to Louis. For the next two years, the teenaged Marie-Louise was the king’s mistress, and had a daughter by him. She lost her place in court only when she became too ambitious and tried to oust the older and wiser mistress, Madame de Pompadour. The Irish teenager was then married off to a French aristocrat, the Count de Beaufranchet. The count was killed in battle soon after. But Marie-Louise was unsinkable. She survived the Revolution and the Terror, and married twice more, once to a man who had done well under Napoleon. The gateway to her grand Parisian house in the 9th arrondissement is still marked with a plaque. Read more:

The glamour with which Poussin and Claude Lorrain had already enveloped classical architecture was heightened even further. Cochin’s “Lettres sur les peintures d’Herculanum” and the successive volumes of the Comte de Caylus intensified the interest. Other printed editions soon followed. “Répertoires” and “Recueils” of antiquities were all the rage. Things did not have to be genuine to be included in these works: merely to look antique was enough.

Judith Harris:A favourite theme which recurred again and again in wall paintings was the satyr creeping up behind a nymph to catch her by surprise. In at least one case the nymph, her veil ripped away, turns out to be a hermaphrodite, to the satyr’s theatrical dismay, and the observer’s amusement. Some wall paintings showed homosexual sex and, because African motifs were popular, another depicted picnicking pygmies enjoying a group orgy under a tent. A peculiar objet resembling a wind-chime, found at Herculaneum in 1740, is an elegantly wrought tintinnabulum of bronze. In what is presumably a jest, it depicts a man whose hooked helmet and protective strap identify him as a murmillo, a type of gladiator, doing battle against his own gigantic phallus, transformed into a panther.

"François Boucher- arguably the most celebrated decorative artist of the 18th century, and according to the Goncourt brothers "one of those men who represent the taste of a century, who express, personify and embody it." (Which sure says a lot about the 18th century, eh?) With a pupil named Jean-Honoré Fragonard and a patroness named Madame du Pompadour, one could say Boucher really pwned the Rococo period. Eh? I have had trouble finding any information about this painting, other than that it was painted around 1740 in oil on canvas. What was the public's reaction to it, I wonder? One would think that even in today's volatile art world there would be a little derision concerning the decorum in painting an open twat with a swan staring at it from about three inches away. I live one county away from the Blountsville, Alabama Tyson plant, where no chicken is safe from molestation, and even I cannot wrap my mind around how one actually goes about having sex with a swan. Best not to even think about it. Maybe what offends me the most about this piece is that I can't look at it without visually picturing a guy in a powdered wig loosening his pantaloons and making romance explosion all over the brocade-papered wall next to it."

The news of these discoveries traveled quickly. The findings changed the image of Naples itself, now seen as so lively that, in one of his books, the Marquis de Sade (1749–1814) used the temple to Venus at Baiae as an appropriate setting for an imaginary orgy.
Nevertheless, in the earliest period of Pompeian excavations, the same desire to understand the natural world that had caused Sir William Hamilton to study Vesuvius and publish his observations of the volcano encouraged him to question the significance of the erotica discoveries.

“I have actually discovered the cult of Priapus in full vigour at Isernia”, he enthusiastically wrote to a friend in London in 1781. Indeed, on commission from Hamilton, the trained engraver Dominique-Vivant Denon, French chargé-d’affaires in Naples after 1782, stole time from organizing drawings of travel sights for the Abbé de Saint-Non, to make a series of drawings of the erotica based on the paintings and artefacts of Pompeii. Under the title Priapées et sujets divers, Denon’s drawings were published in France and circulated among cognoscenti.

Fragonard. The Bolt. 1776-79. wiki

Hamilton’s own collection of wax phalluses from Isernia were given to the British Museum in 1784. The offensive statue of Pan and the she-goat, found in the long peristyle of the Villa of the Papyrus, which had so shocked King Charles when first excavated in 1752, had long since been locked away. Johann J. Winckelmann, today considered the father of both scientific archaeology and art history, came to Naples and asked to see it, but was resolutely denied access. (Denon had managed to see it, however, and one of his drawings depicts that very white marble sculpture group.)

Like Hamilton, Winckelmann was also curious about the phallic clay lamps and the myriad phalluses in bronze called tintinnabula, whose tiny dangling bells are meant to tinkle away as protection from jinxes and the evil eye. Winckelmann drew copies of several from Herculaneum and mailed them to a friend, G.L. Bianconi. Winckelmann knew that to understand the Pompeian erotica required analysing what such gods as Pan and Priapus meant in antiquity. In ancient Arcadian legend, it was Pan who taught Daphnis how to play the flute; depicted together that couple therefore symbolized lyric poetry and, in general, artistic creation. The erect penis was meant to indicate intellectual excitement and a portrayal of nature (Pan) bringing culture to mankind.

"Like the fan, the painting itself could be used to signal to another party feelings of love or loyalty, and in the case of the portrait be used in the games of seduction. Desire and seduction play an enormous part in the Rococo. To appreciate what happens in these paintings we must understand some of the rules. Despite widespread prostitution, and general debauchery, the aristocrat and the middle-class person had to follow strict rules regarding courtship and display of affection. Much of the seduction was circumlocutory. One never got to the point directly. As it has been said of Laurence Sterne’s The Sentimental Journey, the eroticism was “suspended.” Having said that, Boucher and Fragonard pushed the limits of propriety, thus incurring the wrath of the art critics."

And what King Charles presumably did not know was that, among the vast treasures of his mother’s inherited Farnese collection in Rome, there was an erotic variation depicting Pan about to make love to Daphnis, the Sicilian shepherd boy. Carved in Greece, the Farnese family marble Pan had been famous for sixteen centuries because Pliny the Elder had described it in his encyclopedia, and had graced the so-called “garden of Love” (giardino d’Amore) at the Cardinal Farnese’s hillside estate in Rome, the Villa Farnesina, until locked away in the Secret Cabinet of the Farnese palace at Campo de’ Fiori in Rome, where it remained until 1770.

The two statues of Pan, therefore—the one in the cardinal’s collection hidden in Rome and the one hidden away in Naples—were readable as signifying at the same time pure lust and pure intellect, pure art. The wealth of shocking and desirable pornography could hardly go unnoticed among the dealers, and also among forgers hustling their wares to the Grand Tourist collectors converging on Naples. Manufacturing ancient erotica became a lucrative business; Winckelmann himself reported seeing on the market skilful forgeries of Priapic figures from Pompeii in paint and sculpture. One of these forgers of ancient Pompeian erotica, Giuseppe Guerra, a Venetian working in Rome, was particularly renowned. Among his clients was a Borgia family cardinal, whose lavish erotica collection included pieces subsequently purchased by General Joaquim Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, when Murat became king of Naples in 1808.

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