Life on the Volcano

15 November 201323 March 2014

The Kunsthalle of the Hypo Cultural Foundation presented a spectacular exhibition on the antique cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which were immortalized in the moment of their destruction by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Approximately 260 exhibits provided extensive insight into life at the foot of the volcano. In addition to a whole range of everyday objects, original murals, sculptures in bronze and marble, gold jewellery and silver tableware recreated life at the Vesuvius sites. Famous exhibits like the bronze statue of a runner from Herculaneum were juxtaposed with more recently discovered objects from the last decades. These included an elaborate mosaic wall of a fountain, in all 24 meters long, from Massa Lubrense, located on the southern tip of the Gulf of Naples. Half of this splendid mosaic ensemble had been restored for this exhibition and was on public display for the first time.

The Catastrophe

The exhibition focused on life in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, which had been shaped from time immemorial by the threat of impending natural disasters like earthquakes and eruptions. Nevertheless, a fascinating cultural landscape arose that has flourished from ancient times to the Roman era, right down to the present day. The fertile mountain slopes tempted people to repopulate the area time and time again. In the blink of an eye, the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. destroyed life in Pompeii and its neighbouring towns Herculaneum and Stabiae, burying them completely under several meters of ash and pumice. A similarly dramatic fate befell the Bronze Age village Nola as early as 1900 B.C. Both events are just two in a long series of recurring natural disasters. Thus, an inestimable treasure has been preserved for posterity. The spectrum of exhibits ranged from objects deriving from a Bronze Age hut that had been entirely preserved right through to the fabulous furnishings and silver treasure of a Pompeian estate, the so-called House of Menander.

Rediscovery and Reception of the Ancient World

Finally, the exhibition also showed how the astonishing state of preservation of the Vesuvius cities fascinated 18th and 19th century explorers. North of the Alps, their rediscovery triggered a new wave of enthusiasm for antiquity. More than any other individual, Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), who witnessed these early excavations, shaped the reception of antiquity. His writings mark the beginning of archaeology as a modern science and were a major influence on the spirit of classicism. This echo still resonates today in the garden realm of Dessau-Wörlitz and in the Pompeiianum of Aschaffenburg. Each of their builders, Prince Franz of Anhalt-Dessau (1740–1817) and Ludwig I (1786–1868), King of Bavaria, created them on their return from Italy as an expression of their enthusiasm for Roman art and culture.

Exhibition leaflet


This exhibition was organized by the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt – State Museum of Prehistory – in collaboration with the Kunsthalle of the Hypo Cultural Foundation.


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