SCMA Exhibit Features Rarely Seen Artifacts from Buried Italian Villas

A new exhibition at the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) features more than 200 artifacts from a site near the ancient city of Pompeii.

Leisure & Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis Near Pompeii, opening Friday, Feb. 3, centers on the ancient town of Oplontis that was buried and preserved when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E.

The new exhibition focuses on two adjacent Roman archaeological sites—one an enormous luxury villa that once sprawled along the coast of the Bay of Naples, the other a nearby commercial-residential complex, where products from the region were exported.

SCMA is the only East Coast venue for the exhibition, and the final stop on a U.S. tour of works being seen for the first time outside Italy. The SCMA exhibition is the first public show to focus on Oplontis, which is less well known than the volcano-buried towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Ongoing excavations of the villas at Oplontis have revealed a spectacular wealth of art—including sculpture that adorned the villas’ gardens, jewelry, ornate coins, and ordinary utilitarian objects such as utensils and drinking vessels.

Seen together, these beautifully preserved artifacts demonstrate the disparities of wealth, social class and consumption in Roman life, says Smith Professor of Art Barbara Kellum, a scholar of the visual culture of ancient Rome and a special adviser to the exhibition team.

In addition to providing visitors with the unique opportunity to experience the sculpture, paintings and household items excavated from the two villas, Kellum says the show “also delineates the very human tragedy of 54 individuals—including a young woman in her early 20s, pregnant, and adorned with a treasure-trove of jewelry—who met their fates awaiting a rescue ship that never reached them.”

Kellum will moderate a panel discussion Saturday, March 25, at 1:45 pm. in Graham Auditorium, “Leisure & Luxury: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Structuring the Exhibition.”

Also on March 25, John R. Clarke, Regents Professor of the University of Texas Austin and co-director of the Oplontis Project, will give the 27th annual William Lehman Lecture at Smith on “New Research Strategies and Recent Discoveries at Oplontis.” Clarke will speak at 11 a.m. in Weinstein Auditorium.

Information about a variety of other exhibition-related programs—including an opening-day gallery talk on Friday, Feb. 3, at 12:15 p.m. at SCMA—is available online.

The SCMA exhibition is organized and circulated by The University of Michigan Kelsey Museum of Archaeology in cooperation with the Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo and the Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia.

Leisure & Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis Near Pompeii is presented at the Smith College Museum of Art in memory of Isabel Brown Wilson ’53, and has been made possible by generous gifts from Jane Chace Carroll ’53, Louisa Stude Sarofim ’58, Jane M. Timken ’64 and Wallace S. Wilson.