Tuesday, January 24, 2023

THE AGONY OF THE CASTS OF POMPEII

During the excavations of Pompeii were found the remains of over a thousand victims of the eruption of 79 A.D. During the first eruptive phase the inhabitants who had not moved away in time from the city remained trapped in the environments invaded by pumice and lapilli or were hit by collapses caused by eruptive material deposited up to a height of about three meters; Only the skeletons were found. Subsequently a pyroclastic flow, at high temperature, hit Pompeii at great speed, filling the spaces not yet invaded by volcanic materials and causing the instantaneous death of those who were still in the city due to thermal shock. The bodies of these victims remained in the position where they had been hit by the pyroclastic flow, and the solidified kineritic material retained its imprint after decomposition.
Giuseppe Fiorelli was undoubtedly the most important archaeologist who worked in Pompeii in the nineteenth century. He had among many merits, that of the invention of the method to make the casts of the victims of the eruption.
Thus writes Gaetano De Petra, one of his successors: "The most fortunate of his inventions was the authentic image that gave of the catastrophe of Vesuvius, pouring into the ash boulder that covered the skeletons the liquid chalk, so these relive in the forms and contractions of their agony."
The writer Luigi Settembrini adds, about the casts: "It’s impossible to see those three unfurled figures, and not feel moved.. They have been dead for eighteen centuries, but they are human creatures who see themselves in their agony. There it is not art, it is not imitation; but they are their bones, the relics of their flesh and their clothes mixed with chalk: it is the pain of death that regains body and figure.... So far temples, houses and other objects have been discovered that interest the curiosity of educated people, artists and archaeologists; but now you, or my Fiorelli, have discovered human pain, and everyone who is a man feels it".

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