About 2000 years ago a modest provincial town in southern Italy was buried, almost overnight, by the ash and cinders of a volcanic eruption. For nearly 1700 years it remained undiscovered, the miraculously preserved tomb of 20,000 people together with everything they owned, used or enjoyed. No event in history perhaps has caught so sharply the human imagination or been held so firmly in our memory. Why is this?
Psychologists tell us that the capacity to imagine disaster is a primitive but essential part of our human capacity to survive, part of our need to confront death when we are not ourselves dying.
True as this may be, it does not entirely explain the continuing fascination for all of us of the story of Pompeii. The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that we remember Pompeii not just for its human tragedy, nor even for the strange accident which kept its secret so perfectly and for so long, but for the wealth and quality of its art -- the paintings and furniture, the mosaics and sculpture, the architecture, jewellery and treasures, the whole man-made environment of its legendary life-style.
It is from this rich hoard (most of it now cared for in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples) that this exhibition has been chosen and arranged in a setting designed to show them at their best. It is the most ambitious and comprehensive exhibition of these treasures, we believe, ever to have been shown outside Italy.