Why Is the City of Pompeii Important to the Study of Roman Art?

Because a layer of volcanic ash preserved everything from art and architecture to the actual residents, the city of Pompeii provides a clear snapshot of Roman art in situ. Thieves took many paintings, sculptures and other artifacts over the years, but there is still a significant amount of the city waiting to be revealed.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. buried Pompeii and its residents under a mountain of ash. The city remained largely undisturbed until 1748, when the study and collection of art and artifacts began in the soft volcanic ash.

Excavation revealed some of the valuable wall paintings and tile mosaics that were common in Roman households. Further excavation and large scale thievery became common during the mid 1700s, which resulted in the destruction and loss of many historically valuable sites and objects.

However, modern projects begun in the 1960s have uncovered and begun to restore much of the city. These developments allow scientists and art historians to study the architectural and artistic underpinnings of the best-preserved city of Roman times.

As of 2014, only about a third of Pompeii is uncovered. Local preservation efforts include keeping what is already exposed safe, and meticulous documentation of new discoveries. Within the well-preserved walls lie information about the common artistic styles and practices of both the common and elite Roman citizens, as well as examples of possibly unique and well-preserved art that may provide more extensive knowledge about the day-to-day role of art in the life of Romans.