The Legacy of Vesuvius: Bourbon Discoveries on the Bay of Naples

  • Sep 15, 2024Jan 5, 2025
  • Dallas, TX


Villa Arianna, Stabiae, Flora. Early first century CE. Pigment on plaster, 15 x 12 5/8 in. (38 x 32 cm). Museo Archeologico Nazionale de Napoli. Photo © Foto Giorgio Albano.

This exhibition looks at the groundbreaking archaeological excavations sponsored by the Bourbon King Charles VII of Naples – the future king of Spain – and his wife, Maria Amalia, and continued by his son and successor Ferdinand IV.

During the reigns of the Bourbon kings Charles III of Spain (who ruled as Charles VII of Naples from 1734 until 1759) and his son Ferdinand IV (1759 until 1799), the Mediterranean city of Naples established itself as a major European capital and key destination on the Grand Tour, even as Mount Vesuvius continued to smolder, threatening its environs. Throughout the latter half of the eighteenth century, these two monarchs funded archaeological excavations on the Bay of Naples that unearthed ancient treasures and fed into the craze for classical art that infused the Bourbon court.

The exhibition will reveal the slippage between the ancient and modern during the reigns of these royal tastemakers. Through an eighteenth-century lens, Vesuvius’s volatility read as romantic; in its shadows the Bourbons financed excavations at the Roman sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the fruits of which both fueled and supplied demand for all things antique. Royal collections incorporated many of these artifacts, which were sometimes creatively manipulated to better suit eighteenth-century taste. New objects inspired by recently unearthed ancient art were also produced, contributing to the widespread popularity of neoclassicism. The Bay of Naples, itself a protagonist in this story, became a vital hub for artistic production, scientific exploration, and tourism during the eighteenth century.

The Legacy of Vesuvius offers a unique experience by bringing to Dallas ancient artifacts discovered in the course of the Bourbon excavations and exhibiting them alongside eighteenth-century examples of fine and decorative arts that demonstrate how the mystique of Vesuvius shaped elite and popular taste. Featuring loans from the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Wellcome Collection, audiences will gain new insights into the role of the Bourbon court in shaping European art and culture.

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