Brulloff Karl (1799 - 1852)
The Last Day of Pompeii
Oil on canvas, 1830-1833
15 õ 21 ôóòîâ (456,5 õ 651 ñì)
The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
The Last Day of Pompeii is an enormous canvas painted by Karl Briullov in 1830-33.
The Russian painter visited the site of Pompeii in 1828 and made numerous sketches. Depicting the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, the completed canvas was exhibited in Rome to rapturous reviews of critics and thereafter transported to Paris to be displayed in the Louvre. The first Russian artwork to cause such an interest abroad, it gave birth to a wonderful anthologic poem by Alexander Pushkin. Characteristically, Sir W Scott declared that it wasn't an ordinary painting but an epic in colours.
The topic is classical, but Briullov's dramatic treatment and generous use of chiaroscuro render it farther advanced from the neoclassical style. In fact, The Last Day of Pompeii exemplifies many of the characteristics of romanticism as it manifests itself in Russian art, including drama, realism tempered with idealism, increased interest in nature, and a zealous fondness for historical subjects.
The commissioner, Prince Anatole Demidov, donated it to Nicholas I of Russia who had it displayed at the Imperial Academy of Arts for the instruction of young painters. Upon the opening of the Russian Museum in 1895, the vast canvas was transferred there, so that a larger number of people could see it in person.
If one looks in the upper left corner of the painting, under the steeple one can see a self portrait of the artist. He is a beaming visanage peering at the art about to collapse. He is one of the several focuses in the picture, but not easy to identify.
"You could hear women lamenting, children crying, men shouting. There were some so afraid of death that they prayed for death. Many raised their hands to the gods, and even more believed that there were no gods any longer and that this was one unending night for the world." —Pliny the Younger, circa A.D. 97 to 109
It all lasted 19 hours.
Aug. 24, A.D. 79
1 p.m.: When the people of Herculaneum saw a column of smoke bursting from Vesuvius, reaching nine miles into the sky, they looked around, astonished. As the first ash fell on the roofs of their houses, they understood it was time to run. Most stopped to gather what belongings they could: money, jewels, the family dog. Everybody rushed into the streets. Some thought the sea was their route to safety; those who didn't try to escape on boats assembled on the beach.
Midnight: The cloud reached almost 19 miles into the sky, and torrents of lava poured down Vesuvius. The beach probably offered a spectacular view of the eruption, but the fugitives didn't live much longer to admire it.
Aug. 25, A.D. 79
1 a.m.: A cloud of gas and ash plunged down on the town; the hot breath of Vesuvius killed the fugitives in a fraction of a second. By studying bone fractures and the position of the remains, anthropologist Paolo Petrone and volcanologist Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo established beyond a doubt that the fugitives were wrapped in a 900-degree Fahrenheit cloud. They died instantly of thermal shock, not from slow suffocation as scientists long assumed.
1 to 6 a.m.: More surges followed.
7 a.m.: A devastating surge killed the remaining inhabitants of Pompeii; they lay down with death on a thick carpet of pumice.
8 a.m.: Silence fell on Herculaneum and Pompeii.
At the time Mount Vesuvius erupted, this was a wealthy Roman trading town, famous for its fish sauce and grand villas. Indeed, it was international and cosmopolitan.
In addition to Greeks and Etruscans, the population included residents from Africa. Of Pompeii's 20,000 inhabitants, half were children. The average Pompeian woman was 4 1/2 feet tall and lived to the age of 39. The average man was a few inches taller and could expect to live to the age of 41.
Pompeians poured their savings into their houses. Wealthy people enriched their homes with elegant courtyard gardens decorated with frescoes of plants and flowers and an abundance of modern conveniences. Each room was heated by hot air running through cavity walls and spaces under the floors, while sophisticated hydraulic pumps provided running water.
The entire city had an excellent system for the control and distribution of water. From a great reservoir, water flowed invisibly through underground pipelines into drainage systems and into aqueducts supported by arches. It reappeared in the city's houses, public buildings and fountains.