Critics awed by Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum

Mar 28, 2013

British Museum's new exhibition is a triumph of storytelling that will move some to tears

What you need to know
A major new exhibition, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, has opened at the British Museum. It displays objects and human traces preserved since the two cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius near the bay of Naples in AD79.

The exhibition, organised in collaboration with the Archaeological Superintendency of Naples and Pompeii, features more than 400 objects from the cities. They include wall paintings, sculptures, erotica and domestic possessions, as well as body casts of victims of the eruption. Many of these items have never been seen outside of Italy. Until 29 September.

What the critics like
There have been many exhibitions about Pompeii, but this one does something new in transporting the visitor back to the days before disaster struck, says Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph. The quality of the work on display "beggars belief" and "the emotional impact is infinitely more powerful than in any telling of the story I've ever read or seen".

This show sets a precedent in that it focuses on the domestic world, says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times. "It is the sense of these citizens as living, breathing individuals that will haunt visitors to this exhibition and bring the tears to their eyes."

This marvellous retelling of the tragedy of the destruction of Herculaneum and Pompeii is a triumph of pacing, says Michael Glover in The Independent. It's "so moving and thought-provoking" because of the quiet, meticulous way it has chosen to concentrate our attention upon the story of the everyday.

What they don't like
Critics have been awed by the exhibition and have almost nothing negative to say. In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones suggests: "This majestic event will hopefully remind the world that Pompeii is not some tourist attraction to treat shabbily but the world's most revelatory survival of the human past."

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