Thursday, 22 September 2011

National Archaeological Museum Naples

Today we spend the morning in the National Archaeological Museum and the afternoon at Pozzuoli to see one of the largest amphitheatres in the world.

Click on any of the pictures in the blog entry to see a larger version.

Naples has a fairly poor reputation as a tourist city, it is said to be very dirty because of continuing problems of rubbish disposal and also because of tourist muggings and robbery. The former is evident throughout the city and the latter is not a problem for us because we are aware of the risk and stay together. Getting there involves a longish drive because of the traffic and a quick dismount from the coach outside of the museum because of the traffic police. One of the problems when visiting the museum is that they have a reputation of closing galleries without warning so you are never sure what you are going to see. It does however contain some most amazing statues and frescoes because a lot of what was not looted or taken by the Bourbon Kings for their own palaces has landed up in the museum including numerous frescoes from Pompeii and elsewhere. Once you get into the museum (in itself a trial), there is no re-entry that day on your ticket and you cannot eat lunch there (no cafe) nor eat in the museum itself. However, by the end of the morning, we are all convinced that it is well worth the visit. Rarely have we come across such a brilliant collection of fine statues, frescoes and other works of art from the Roman period. Labelling of the exhibits is sometimes poor but that does not detract from the brilliance of the place.

Therefore there follows, numerous photos and little explanation but just enjoy the pictures.

Alexander Severus AD225 Julius Caesar late 200 AD

Alexander Severus AD225

Julius Caesar late AD200

Tiberius AD40 Vespasian AD80

Tiberius AD40

Vespasian AD80

Unknown Bust Vestal 1cBC to 3cAD

an unknown bust with an alabaster mantel

a Vestal 1cBC to 3cBC

Sophocles Socrates



Herodotus Claudius AD41


Claudius AD41

Farnese Lar 2ndC AD Warrior with Child Achilles and Troilus 2-3C AD
Farnese Lar 2nd C AD Warrior with Child Achilles & Troilus
2-3C AD
Aphrodite (of the beautiful buttocks) Aphrodite


(of the beautiful buttocks)

Aphrodite - the buttocks

her buttocks – hence the name!

Farnese Hercules at Rest 2-3C AD Farnese Spare Legs!
Farnese Hercules at Rest 2-3C AD and his Spare Legs!

The Hercules was discovered without its legs so a student of Michelangelo made a new set. When the original legs were discovered, a decision was made to keep the new legs in place because they were felt to better. This was the case until the 18th C when sense prevailed!

Julia Agrippina

Julia Agrippina

Roasting of the Boar 1st C AD

Roasting of the Boar 1C BC

Seneca - three heads

Three different heads of Seneca

Perhaps the best sculpture we saw in the museum was the Farnese Bull – we could have spent far longer looking at it and learning about how it was carved and later reconstructed. It represents the punishment of Dirce who was guilty of maltreating Antiope and her punishment was to be tied to a bull by Antiope’s sons Zetus and Amphion.

The young shepherd, animals and rural landscape relate to the woods on Mount Cithaeron sacred to the god Dionysus. The lyre represents Amphion who with his music and voice raised the walls of the city of Thebes.

The Farnese Bull The Farnese Bull-2
The Farnese Bull
Farnese Bull detail 5 Farnese Bull detail 3
detail detail
Farnese Bull reconstruction The bull is the largest sculpture carved from a single block of marble which has been found. It was found in bits over a period of years and has gradually been reconstructed (chart on the left)
Farnese Bull detail 2 Farnese Bull detail 4
more of the astonishing fine detail. It really is a most remarkable sculpture.

 Flora Maggiore 2nd C AD

another beautiful sculpture is that of Flora Maggiore 2nd C AD. Again the detail is astonishing.

FLora Maggiore detail 1 Flora Maggiore Detail 2

On the first floor is the Hall of the Sundial which, apart from its most amazing ceiling displays the Farnese Atlas. This is possibly the oldest existing depiction of Atlas from Greek mythology, and the oldest view of the Western constellations, possibly based upon the star catalogue of Hipparchus

Hall of the Sundial Farnese Atlas
Hall of the Sundial Farnese Atlas
Hall of the Sundial Detail Atlas detail
Ceiling Detail Star Globe

Apotheosis of Ferdinand IV and Maria Carolina 1781

The Apotheosis of Ferdinand IV and Maria Carolina from 1781 in an astonishing ceiling painting.


The museum also contains numerous frescoes from villas and houses around the area. Choosing which ones to include here is a difficult choice because there are so many fine examples on display. Amongst them (and our favourites) were:

 Wall from a triclinium Wall oceus

Two frescoes, the top one coming from a Triclinium (an eating room with three seater couches ) being in the third style. The lower one comes from a dining room with a seated women (symbolizing Asia), the old man on the left is a traveller.

Prizes on a Large Table

Prizes for an athletic competition

Centaur Chiron

The Centaur Chiron (who was the inventor of medicine and surgery) standing between Apollo and Asclepius (Gods), to whom he is said to have taught medicine.

Jason and Pelias Europa seated on a bull
Jason and Pelias Europa seated on a Bull
Pan and his pipes Paris seated
Pan and his Pipes Paris seated
Medusa planning the murder of her children Medusa detail
Medusa planning the murder of her children a detail
Perseus and Andromeda Perseus and Andromeda

Two lares

Two Lares (household guardian Deities) pour wine from a drinking horn and a bucket. In the centre is a sacrificial stone. Beneath are a pair of serpents who are symbolically bringers of prosperity and abundance and they have brought eggs to be placed on the altar. Houses would usually have a number of Larariums (a shrine) where offerings and prayers were made to symbols of the household gods. When people were fleeing Pompeii, many took their Lares with them.

Girl with a stylus

The Girl with a Stylus (Sappho) is a favourite fresco of most visitors to the museum. It is thought that it is not a portrait of a real girl but a stylised image.  It was made toward the end of the 1st C AD. She is thinking as she is about to write on a wax tablet

Terentius Neo and his wife

This status symbol fresco was found in a house in Pompeii that is believed to have belonged to the baker Terentius Proculus and his brother Terentius Neo, a magistrate. The portrait is of the wealthy and educated magistrate and his wife. He is dressed in a toga and displays a papyrus scroll with a red seal. His wife is wearing a tunic and mantle and has a hairstyle that was popular in the middle of the first century. Pressed to her chin is a stylus which she would use to make notes on the wax-coated double-leaved wooden tablet which she is holding in her left hand. He had this fresco positioned in his atrium so that all visitors would see it.

Flora as Primavera Medea

Flora as Primavera


Leda and the Swans Diana the Hunter

Leda and the Swan

Diana the Hunter

These four frescoes come from the seaside Villa Arianna at Stabiae and were recovered from the ash when the villa was excavated.


Numerous mosaics were removed from villas and it has to be said that their long term preservation is more secure in the museum than in their original site.

Mosaic of Dog
Dog on a lead
Panther with Dinonysian symbol
a Panther
Two fighting cocks
Two fighting cocks
Marbled pillar
Pillar decorated with mosaic
Pond with water fowl
Pond animals
Sea with fish
Sea with fish
Cat and Partridge
Cat and a Partridge
Frog Detail
Close up of a frog showing the fine mosaic work
Animal scene
Animal scene
Animal Scene Detail-1
Animal scene detail
Medusa Head
Head of Medusa in a floor section

Gabinetto Segreto

Also in the museum is the (in)famous Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Museum) which contains some of the most explicit finds from Pompeii. This contains those exhibits deemed obscene and unsuitable for the general public to see and therefore in 1819 they were locked away in a Secret Museum for the public good. The Gabinetto was then only accessible to "people of mature age and respected morals", which in practice meant only educated males. The doorway was bricked up in 1849. Re-opened, closed, re-opened again and then closed again for nearly a hundred years, the secret room was finally re-opened in 2000.  Most of the exhibits are too explicit for a public blog

Brothel Scene

but here is an example of a fresco in the room

Brothel Graffiti

and also an example of graffiti taken from Pompeii. Some of the exhibits are truly astonishing.

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