Last Supper in Pompeii

What a wonderful show to mark the beginning of “return to normal” after the pandemic.

Last Supper In Pompeii

Even though the title is called “Supper”, there are actually surprisingly few artifacts demonstrate what dishes were served in Pompeii at 79 AD. But there are plenty about wine and what ingredients were included in a Pompeii dinner.

From top left, clock wise: A fresco of a politician distributing bread to voters; a terracotta jar to fattening dormouse before eating them and a jar to prepare snails (let them empty contents in their digesting system before eating them); A rabbit eating figs before the rabbit will be cooked; a rooster eating pomegranate before the rooster itself will be eaten; carbonized fig demonstrated how fig was served in pompeii–first halved and lay flat, apply honey, then close up with another halved fig like a sandwich, resulting in a giant peanut shaped “coupled fig”; fish sauce that was made from fermented fish, one of Pompeii’s local specialty.

After spending so much time admiring the bronze from ancient China, I’m struck by the common usage of bronze in Pompeii daily life, and their exquisite details. Oil lamps, hand washing pan, lamp stand, fountain fixtures, water heater, wine mixter, wineskin shaped jug, food mold, small dining table, etc.

This bronze statue of Bacchus has its eyes still intact. A rarity thanks to the pumice that enveloped Pompeii at its entirety before the volcanic ash fell upon them. Found this interesting explanation by the Met of what was used to make an eye: marble, frit, quartz, and obsidian.

But what took my breath away and stayed with me days after seeing the show were the three giant garden frescos in the first exhibition hall. The verdant plants, shrubs, trees, blooms, birds were so detailed, accurate and beautiful. Olive trees, bay, oleander, cypress, palm, strawberry, rose, daisy, black bird, dove, pigeon,.

Frescoes from a garden room
Roman, Pompeii, House of the Golden Bracelet, salone 32, second quarter of 1st century AD

The House of the Golden Bracelet was a palatial residence on the western edge of Pompeii, laid out over three floors to accommodate the sloping land scape and the city walls. On the lowest level were the garden and two lavishly painted rooms: a summer triclinium (dining room) and a small reception hall. Both open on one side to a lush garden with a fountain and pools, while beyond the terrace stretches a panoramic sea view,

The north and south walls of the small room (on view here, left and right) are painted with a similar scheme of garden statuary set in a verdant landscape filled

with birds and flora. A scalloped marble fountain is flanked by two marble herms, each holding a decorative panel (pinax) with a relief of a reclining female. The female herm on the left holds a picture lent hold of Ariadne, the lover of the god Bacchus. The male herm, with a satyr’s wild face, holds a panel s a maenad, one of the followers of Bacchus, pair showing of theatrical masks hangs from the top. The garden scenery fresco the middle (to the left) is decorated with a pair of marble circular reliefs (oscilla). Evidence that this room contained a small couch (kline) suggests that it, like the adjacent triclinium, might also have been used for dining.

This show in British Museum back in 2013 reconstructed the actual room of #32. South wall here has a small window.

After some research, I realized there were more fresco in the original UK show but didn’t make it to San Francisco. For example, this three paneled fresco on the south wall of an adjacent room (salone 31).

In the room #31, eastern wall was decorated with glass mosaic instead of fresco, the center opening is no a small window like in its neighboring room #32, but a waterfall cascading down to a small pool at its base.

VI.17.42 Pompeii. Summer triclinium 31, original nymphaeum mosaic pattern reconstructed in exhibition apse. Now in Naples Archaeological Museum.  Inventory numbers 40689A-G. See Conticello, B., Ed, 1990. Rediscovering Pompeii. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider. (194, p. 275-280).
VI.17.42 Pompeii. April 2019, on display in Antiquarium.
Summer triclinium 31, detail of original nymphaeum mosaic pattern reconstructed in exhibition apse. 
Photo courtesy of Rick Bauer.

There is another bigger pool outside of room #31, that has 28 water sprouts built around it. Archeologist has identified room 31 as a dining room. Fountains in the fresco, fountains behind the wall, fountains everywhere.

During my Roman garden research, i came upon this Pliny Younger’s villas and garden letters

At the upper end is a semicircular bench of white marble, shaded with a vine which is trained upon four small pillars of Carystian marble. Water, gushing through several little pipes from under this bench, as if it were pressed out by the weight of the persons who repose themselves upon it, falls into a stone cistern underneath, from whence it is received into a fine polished marble basin, so artfully contrived that it is always full without ever overflowing. When I sup here, the tray of whets and the larger dishes are placed round the margin, while the smaller ones swim about in the form of little ships and water-fowl. Opposite this is a fountain which is incessantly emptying and filling, for the water which it throws up to a great height falling back again into it, is by means of connected openings returned as fast as it is received.Fronting the bench stands a chamber of lustrous marble, whose doors project and open upon a lawn; from its upper and lower windows the eye ranges upward or downward over other spaces of verdure,… In different quarters are disposed several marble seats, which serve as so many reliefs after one is wearied with walking. Next each seat is a little fountain; and throughout the whole hippodrome small rills conveyed through pipes run murmuring along, wheresoever the hand of art has seen proper to conduct them; watering here and there different spots of verdure, and in their progress bathing the whole.

All of these reminded me of moorish gardens in Alhambra.