Pompeii comes to life at Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

A new exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts brings to life the ancient Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum before they were buried under 30 metres of ashes from an erupting Mount Vesuvius.

Exhibition shows daily life in Pompeii in 79 A.D. before eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried homes, people

Montrealers will soon be able to stroll down a street of ancient Pompeii past the enchanted garden, the impluvium, through the leisure spaces, even the bedroom and baths of the typical 79 A.D. home — days before Mount Vesuvius erupted.

The immersive experience is created specifically for the Montreal showing of the exhibition Pompeii created in partnership by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, in collaboration with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli and the Soprintendenza Pompei.

Sneak peek

Some of the statues for the exhibition were uncrated today for reporters, including Girl Fastening her Peplum, a life-size bronze of a young woman staring boldly out through her crate, with her hands at her shoulders attaching the brooch that holds her peplum, or vest, in place. That statue was discovered in the neighbouring ancient Roman town of Herculaneum.

Archaeologist Laura Vigo says the statue intrigues archaeologists.

"Personally I think esthetically it's very appealing — the eye contact is extremely vivid and the elegance of the gesture itself. It's a bronze cast from the Villa dei Papiri that they discovered very early on in the excavations of the Vesuvian area...It was discovered in one of the peristyles, the colonnades in one of the gardens."

They're very elegant models of feminine virtues.- Laura Vigo, archaeologist 

​Vigo says the statue was found near a swimming pool.

"They might be semi-goddesses but I think, generally speaking, what we can say it that they're very elegant models of feminine virtues."

Vigo says the young woman is known as a Peplophoros because she is wearing a Greek-style vest.

"We'll see in the exhibition how fashion is different in Rome than in Greece [and] also how the Romans, and especially the Pompeians, were very much drawn to Greece as an example of virtue and learning. Everything that was considered very posh was from Greece."

The exhibition, Pompeii, opens at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Feb. 6 and runs until Sept. 5, 2016.


Jeanette Kelly works as the arts reporter at CBC Montreal. She's also the host of Cinq à Six, Quebec's Saturday afternoon culture show on CBC Radio One.