“The Last Day of Pompeii” by Karl Bryullov
“The Last Day of Pompeii” by Karl Bryullov depicts the volcanic ash and pumice from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 that inundating inhabitants. Those who did not escape the lethal effects of the earthquake and explosive eruption were buried in over 4 m (13 ft) of volcanic ash.
Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near modern Naples. The Roman town of Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, were buried in volcanic ash. Briullov visited the partially excavated Pompeii in 1828 and made sketches depicting “The Last Day of Pompeii.”
This painting received positive reviews and praise at its exhibition in Rome and brought Briullov significant acclaim. It was the first modern-era Russian artwork to cause such interest abroad, and it inspired a poem by Pushkin. Bryullov’s painting exhibited characteristics of Romanticism from Russian art, including drama, realism tempered with idealism in historical subjects.
The town of Pompeii was preserved under the ash for nearly two thousand years. Following its rediscovery, excavations revealed the remains of an ancient city that offers a snapshot of Roman life, frozen at the moment it was buried. Organic remains, including wooden objects and human bodies, were interred in the ash and decayed away, making natural molds; and excavators used these to make plaster casts.
Herculaneum was rediscovered in 1738 by workmen digging the foundations of a summer palace for the King of Naples. The Spanish military engineer then undertook excavations to find further remains, discovering Pompeii in 1748. The first serious excavations followed in 1764.
The discovery of erotic art in Pompeii and Herculaneum left the archaeologists with a dilemma stemming from the clash of cultures between the mores of sexuality in ancient Rome and Counter-Reformation Europe. An unknown number of discoveries were hidden away again. A wall fresco was covered with plaster. A large number of artifacts from the buried cities are preserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.
Much of the erotic artwork that was locked away in a so-called “secret cabinet,” a gallery within the museum accessible only to “people of mature age and respected morals.” The Naples “Secret Museum” was finally re-opened for viewing in 2000. Minors are still allowed entry only in the presence of a guardian or with written permission.
Karl Pavlovich Bryullov (1799 – 1852) was a Russian painter, who is considered as critical in the transition from the Russian neoclassicism to romanticism. Bryullov was born in St. Petersburg; his father was of Huguenot descent. During his early years as an artist, he left Russia for Rome, where he worked until 1835 as a portraitist and genre painter. However, Bryullov’s fame as an artist came when he began creating historical paintings.
After returning to the Russian capital, he made many friends among the aristocracy and intellectual elite and obtained a high post in the Imperial Academy of Arts. While teaching at the academy, he developed a portrait style that combined a neoclassical simplicity with a romantic tendency. His penchant for realism was satisfied with an intriguing level of psychological penetration.
When his health suddenly deteriorated, following the advice of his doctors, Bryullov left Russia for Madeira, Portugal, in 1849 and then spent the last three years of his life in Italy. He died near Rome.
The Last Day of Pompeii
- Title: The Last Day of Pompeii
- Artist: Karl Bryullov
- Created: 1833
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: Height: 456.5 cm (14.9 ft); Width: 651 cm (21.3 ft)
- Type: History Painting
- Museum: Russian Museum
- Name: Karl Pavlovich Bryullov
- Birth Name: Charles Bruleau
- Russian: Карл Па́влович Брюлло́в
- Born: 1799, St. Petersburg
- Died: 1852 (aged 52), Manziana, Rome, Italy
- Nationality: Russian
- Movement: Romantic; Orientalist
- Notable work:
A Tour of the Hermitage Museum
- “Madonna Litta” attributed to Leonardo da Vinci
- Composition VI by Kandinsky
- “Portrait of Doña Antonia Zárate” by Francisco Goya
- “White House at Night” by Vincent van Gogh
- “The Three Graces” by Antonio Canova
- Egyptian Collection in the Hermitage Museum
- Gonzaga Cameo
- “Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss” by Antonio Canova
A Tour of History Paintings
- “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze
- “The Family of Darius before Alexander” by Paolo Veronese
- “Las Meninas” or “The Ladies-in-Waiting” by Diego Velázquez
- “The Third of May 1808″ by Francisco Goya
- The Second of May 1808 – The Charge of the Mamelukes by Francisco de Goya
- “The Fighting Temeraire” by Joseph Mallord William Turner
- “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way” by Emanuel Leutze
- “The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776″ by John Trumbull
- “The March to Valley Forge” by William B. T. Trego
- “The Massacre at Chios” by Eugène Delacroix
- “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey” by Paul Delaroche
- “Cromwell in Battle of Naseby” by Charles Landseer
- “The Surrender of Breda” by Diego Velázquez
- “Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps” by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Death of Marat” by Gioacchino Giuseppe Serangeli after Jacques-Louis David
- “Oath of the Horatii” by Jacques-Louis David
- “The Coronation of Napoleon” by Jacques-Louis David
- “The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Burning of the Houses of Parliament” by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Triumph of Cleopatra” by William Etty
- “Dempsey and Firpo” by George Bellows
- Floreat Etona! by Elizabeth Thompson
- Scotland Forever! by Elizabeth Thompson
- “The Last Day of Pompeii” by Karl Bryullov
- Leonidas at Thermopylae by Jacques-Louis David
- The Election Series by George Caleb Bingham
“Many sought the aid of the gods,
but still more imagined there were no gods left,
and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness forevermore.”
– Pliny the Younger
Photo Credit 1) Karl Bryullov [Public domain]