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Starting in September, the Colors of Ancient Rome will be on Show at the Scuderie del Quirinale
Triclinio C della Villa della Farnesina (c.d. Stanza Nera) Affresco, 210 x 870 x 3 cm. Roma, Museo Nazionale Romano.

ROME.- The Scuderie del Quirinale, from September 24 2009 until January 17 2010, will showcase Roman Imperial Painting: frescoes, portraits on wood and on glass, decorations and landscapes from patrician domus, as well as popular houses and shops from the most important archaeological sites and museums in the world.

The exhibition is Under the High Patronage of the President of the Italian Republic, and is organized by the Azienda Speciale Palaexpo and MondoMostre, in collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Culture and the Soprintendenze of Rome and Naples, with the sponsorship of SISAL.

This is the first time an exhibition is completely devoted to the paintings of the ancient Rome, and it will be presented in the theatrical installation of Luca Ronconi and Margherita Palli. Curated by Eugenio La Rocca with Serena Ensoli, Stefano Tortorella and Massimiliano Papini, the show’s goal is to retrace the central role of painting in the roman civil society, emphasizing its originality and going beyond the acquired concept of a passive dependency from Greek art. It will also highlight an amazing continuity with the modern figurative culture, from the Renaissance onwards.

The ancient world was a coloured world, where historical, mythological events but also aspects of the nature and the daily life, were reproduced using realism and poetry.

All public monuments, statues and marbles were nearly always coloured: white marble was always inserted within a complex chromatic scheme. Sculptures and stuccoes were lively and charmingly painted.

Nevertheless, it has become commonplace to identify the “classic” with the transparency of white marble. Time cancels colours, destroys wood, washes and cleans so that all that is left is white marble and white stone. Of paintings and decorations in the houses and monuments very little is left and practically nothing painted on wood remains today.

This is why it is difficult to imagine the ancient world as a coloured world. The discovery of Pompeii and Hercolanum in the middle of the seventeenth century could have changed this attitude but under the influence of a classicist theory the ancient world has continued to be imagined as a white world.

This is very far from a historical reality: for Romans as for Greeks before them, real art was painting not sculpture: this is what this show is about.

Roman Imperial Painting is an exhibition that documents the development of roman painting through the centuries: born out Greek art, it will in turn be a model for the following centuries. At the Scuderie the visitor will be able to appreciate the quality of roman art in its highest form as well as the close but distant relationship between ancient and modern art: from the Renaissance to Impressionism all we know is linked to the ancient world.

Roman painters, for instance, like our modern impressionists, used a fast painting technique, in spots, with touches of color based on a subjective interpretation. Not only is this technique already present in roman times, but the qualitative level of some frescoes seems to anticipate artistic solutions of the 1500's and through to the 1800's.

But ancient art also diverged from modern techniques: we can see this in the spatial conception of a roman painter. Romans were not interested in the system of linear perspective which will be “invented” by Italian architects in the first decades of the 1400's: Roman distributed objects freely in space, without rigid perspective constrictions. In such a way there is no fusion between space and objects, who seem to be flanking one another, or one over the other, leaving an impression of instability.

The exhibition will first focus on landscapes, views of villas and rural sanctuaries populated by little figures that remember the Neapolitean presepi, followed by a choice of imagery from Greek mythology: Amore and Psiche, Polifemo and Galatea, Ercole and Telefo, Perseo and Andromeda just to name a few. But the exhibition will also highlight scenes of daily life, erotic images and still lives which abounded in roman imagery.

Portraits are separate chapter. For the first time visitors will be able to admire a direct comparison of roman portraits on fresco, mosaic or on glass, unearthed in Italy, with the most celebrated roman portraits from the Egyptian oasis of El Fayyum.

The exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirinale will also go beyond Pompeii (destroyed by the Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 A.D., during Titus): it will extend to the art of an Empire under the reigns of Domiziano, Traiano, Adriano and Marco Aurelio. The art of the Roman Empire goes well beyond Pompeii, to the thresholds of the late-ancient Empire, to the age of the last great princes of the roman Empire, Costantino and Teodosio.

Over one hundred, extraordinary pieces of perfect elegance and refinement will be lent by the most important archaeological sites and museums of the world: the Louvre, British Museum, the Staatliche Museen of Berlin, the Antikensammlung in Munich, the Liebighaus of Frankfurt, the Museum of the University of Zurich, but also the Archaeological Museum of Naples, Pompeii, the Roman National Museum, the Vatican Museums and the Capitoline Museums in Rome.

Scuderie del Quirinale | Azienda Speciale Palaexpo | MondoMostre | Rome | Naples | Renaissance |

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