How has the image of Nature changed in Art? This is a question which the exhibition “Myth and Nature. From Greece to Pompeii”, curated by Gemma Sena Chiesa and Angela Pontrandolfo, tries to answer through a new interpretation of the complex transformations that affected the relation between Nature and Art from the 8th century BC to the 1st century AD.
In Greek times Nature represents the place where men act: Nature mirrors the even clashing will of gods, such as Athena and Poseidon who compete for the protectorate of Attica and struggle against each other opposing the power of the sea to the essential good of olive. Nature is Gods’ gift and represents the tangible sign not only of their instructions, but also of their anger and of the limits they set to men’s hybris. Harpies attacking sailors and storms causing the sinking of boats continuously clash with the celebratory images of a productive and fertile Nature, protected by Demeter and Dionysus, as well as by other gods.
Precious gold crowns with leaves twisted around berries coming from the tombs of Verghina accompany the Macedonian kings on the journey to the afterlife; hunting scenes depicted on the facades of chamber tombs show the prince engaged in the symbolic fight between wild nature represented by the eras and the “ethical” force of the man protected by gods. The crowns, real masterpieces of the ancient goldsmith’s art displayed on the exhibition, ratify the symbolic relation, often tragically contrasted, which unifies living beings.
The symbolic role of the representation of nature changes in the Roman world and becomes a refined ornamental motif for large scenes frescoed on the most magnificent residences in the empire: from the famous hall in Livia’s villa ad gallinas albas north of the capital to the walls of halls and cubicles in Pompeian houses. The representation of gardens in exceptional trompe-l’oeil – real deceptive walls, as Salvatore Settis writes in one of his sparkling essays – offers the spectator the image of a never-ending spring, where nature is controlled and arranged by the meticulous and tireless work of topiary art masters, as Plinio describes.
In order to restore the emblematic value of nature in the ancient world, this exhibition also shows fruit and loaves coming from Pompeii preserved by the ashes of the eruption of 79 AD, touching testament to how food is an integral part of the cultural roots of contemporary men.
The Monuments and Fine Arts Office of Pompeii is deeply involved in the exhibition “Myth and Nature” not only by lending works of art, handmade articles and organic materials, but also by planning a second stage of the exhibition which will take place in the National Archeological Museum of Naples and in the excavations of Pompeii. In the latter location gardens and natural spaces will be organized in such a way as to offer a lost landscape, which can be easily reconstructed in Pompeii as anywhere else thanks to the exceptional paleobotanical remains or casts of roots abundantly made in the past. Some of the most famous gardens of Pompeian houses, such as Ottavio Quarto’s garden, will be reopened for the occasion thanks to the accurate restoration carried out as a part of the “Great Project Pompeii”.
An ambitious project also concerns the laboratory where organic finds are kept: besides being a research centre for international scholars, it will become a museum where the public will be able to admire the exceptional materials that now can be seen only by experts. In particular on exhibition will be those products of nature which were usually used in the cookery of the first imperial age in Pompeii as well as in the empire: cereals and pulses (spelt, burley, field beans, vetch, lentils), vegetables and fruit (onions, pomegranates, walnuts, dates).
Research field where nature is perceived in its aesthetical sense and landscapes are interpreted as historical memories, the exhibition, in its different locations of Milan, Naples and Pompeii, will offer a unique interpretation of nature in the classical world: a cosmogonic and mythological vision and at the same time a lively space throbbing with men’s lives.