Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave, Legion of Honor museum \ April 18–August 30, 2020
As the ash from Mount Vesuvius began to rain down on Pompeii in AD 79, the people of the city were engaged in two of their most important daily activities: eating and drinking. The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are proud to host Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave, the first exhibition to focus on the love of food and drink in Pompeii. The original exhibition, organized by the Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, has been adapted and expanded for a California audience to bring to San Francisco a treasure trove of about 300 objects including magnificent Roman sculpture, mosaics, and frescoes; household furnishings and tableware; objects of precious materials; and more, with many of these wondrous pieces traveling to the United States for the very first time.
“The incredibly preserved art, furnishings and eatables of Pompeii give us the rare opportunity to explore the Romans’ infatuation with food and wine – which is in every way, analogous to our own enjoyment of the activity today,” states Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “I am thrilled to bring Last Supper in Pompeii from the Bay of Naples to the San Francisco Bay Area, which will be the first in a series of upcoming exhibitions examining life in the ancient Mediterranean.”
Located in the sunny paradise of southern Italy, the city of Pompeii was nestled between the bountiful Bay of Naples and the vineyard-covered slopes of the formidable Mount Vesuvius. Due to the powerful eruption, Pompeii and nearby villages were completely buried under pumice and hot ash, killing thousands in the midst of their daily activities and freezing the city in this moment of time for centuries. From frescoes and mosaics, to casts of Vesuvius’s victims, to actual food carbonized by the heat of the eruption, the exhibition gives us a picture of what life was like in this thriving Roman city.
“Last Supper in Pompeii brings us into the world of ancient Rome by focusing on the particulars of everyday life, influenced by the extensive, rich, and complex relationships between food, drink, and society,” said Renée Dreyfus, Curator in Charge of Ancient Art and Interpretation at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “The objects on view not only capture our imagination but also whet our appetite, informing us of the glory that once was Rome.”
Last Supper of Pompeii brings to San Francisco evidence from recent excavations that sheds light on the drink and food consumed in Pompeii, based on close examination of tiny remnants left on dishes, vessels, and even kitchen drains, as well as carbonized foods that were found in excavated homes and businesses. Starting in our first gallery, food samples reveal the fertile land of the area, including items such as almonds, figs, olives, snails, and more. In this room we also learn that Pompeii was recovering from an earthquake in AD 62 that left the city in shambles, as shown by a carved relief showing the destroyed buildings. Although the area was prone to natural disasters, Pompeiians chose to live under the shadow of Vesuvius that only 17 years later would suffer one of the most well-known eruptions in history.
“Dinner… without a friend is like the life of a lion or a wolf.” – Seneca the Younger, Roman philosopher (4 BC–AD 65)