Last Day of Pompeii in Kagoshima

Secrets of “The Last Day of Pompeii”: Which of the contemporaries Carl Bryullov depicted in the picture four times

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К. Bryullov. The last day of Pompeii, 1833 | Photo:

1939 years ago, on August 24, A.D. 79, the most devastating eruption of the volcano Vesuvius occurred, destroying the cities of Herculaneum, Stabia and Pompeii. This event has more than once become the subject of works of art, and the most famous of them is “The Last Day of Pompeii” by Karl Bryullov. However, not many people know that in this picture the artist depicted not only himself, but also the woman with whom he was romantically involved, in four images.

К. K. Bryullov. Self-portrait, ca. 1833. Fragment | Photo:

At the time of this painting the artist was living in Italy. In 1827 he went to the excavations of Pompeii, in which his brother Alexander also participated. Obviously, then he had the idea to create a monumental painting on a historical theme. On his impressions he wrote: “The sight of these ruins made me involuntarily transported to a time when these walls were still inhabited … You can not go through these ruins without feeling in yourself a completely new feeling, makes you forget everything except the terrible incident with this city.

Fragment of a painting showing the newlyweds in wreaths of flowers and the son with his mother, persuading him to leave her and run away.| Photo:

Fragment of a painting showing a newlywed couple in a wreath of flowers and a son with his mother, persuading him to leave her and run away | Photo:

The process of preparation took Bryullov several years – he studied the customs of ancient Italy, learned the details of the disaster from the letters of an eyewitness of the tragedy of Pliny the Younger to the Roman historian Tacitus, several times been on the excavations, exploring the ruined city, made sketches in the archaeological Museum of Naples. He also drew inspiration from Pacini’s opera The Last Day of Pompeii, and dressed his sitters in the costumes of the participants in that performance.

In the image of the artist Bryullov depicted himself | Photo:

Some of the figures on his canvas are depicted by Bryullov in the same poses as the skeletons found in the petrified ashes at the site of the tragedy. The image of a young man with his mother, the artist had borrowed from Pliny – he described how, during the volcanic eruption, an old woman begged her son to leave her and flee. However, the painting captured not only the historical details with documentary precision, but also contemporaries Bryullov.

Images in which Bryullov depicted Yulia Samoilova | Photo:

In one of the characters Briullov portrayed himself – it is a painter who is trying to save the most precious thing he has – a box of brushes and paints. It’s as if he froze for a minute, trying to remember the picture unfolding before him. In addition, Bryullov in four images depicted the features of his beloved, Countess Julia Samoilova: a girl who carries a vessel on her head, a mother embracing her daughters, a woman clutching her baby to her breast, and a noble Pompeian who has fallen from a broken chariot.

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Images in which Bryullov depicted Yulia Samoilova | Photo:

Images in which Bryullov depicted Yulia Samoilova | Photo:

Countess Samoilova was one of the most beautiful and wealthy women of the early 19th century. Because of her scandalous reputation, she had to leave Russia and settle in Italy. The whole society gathered there – composers, artists, diplomats and artists. She often ordered sculptures and paintings for her villas, including those by Karl Brullov. He painted several of her portraits, by which we can establish a resemblance to the images depicted in The Last Day of Pompeii. All paintings feel his tender attitude towards Samoilova, as Benois wrote: “Probably due to his special relationship to the depicted person, he was able to express so much fire and passion that when you look at them immediately becomes clear all the satanic charm of his model. “. Their romance with interruptions lasted 16 years, and during this time Bryullov even managed to get married and divorced.

К. Bryullov. Left - Portrait of Julia Samoilova with her ward Jovanina Pacini and a little arapchunk, 1834. Right - Portrait of Countess Y.P. Samoilova leaving a ball with her ward, Amacilia Pacini, 1839-1840. | Photo: and

К. Briullov. Left – Portrait of Y. Samoilova with her pupil Giovannina Pacini and a little arapchunk, 1834. Right – Portrait of Countess Y.P. Samoilova leaving a ball with her ward, Amacilia Pacini, 1839-1840. | Photo: and

The artist tried to be as accurate as possible in the transfer of details, so even today we can identify the place of action selected by Bryullov – it is the Herculaneum Gate, behind which began the “Street of tombs” – the place of burial with opulent tombs. “I took the entire scenery from nature, not retreating at all and not adding, standing to the city gate with his back to see part of Vesuvius as the main reason, “- he wrote in a letter. In the 1820s this part of the ruined city was already well cleared, which allowed the artist to reproduce the architecture as accurately as possible. Volcanologists have noted that Bryullov’s depiction of an earthquake of 8 points is very accurate, which is how buildings collapse during tremors of this magnitude.

*The street of tombs* Pompeii | Photo:

From a painting by Bryullov you can accurately identify the part of the city portrayed by the artist (modern reconstruction) | Photo:

According to a painting by Bryullov, you can accurately identify the part of the city depicted by the artist (modern reconstruction) | Photo:

The painting depicts several groups of characters, each of which is a separate story against the background of the overall disaster, but this “polyphony” does not destroy the impression of artistic integrity of the picture. Because of this feature, it was like the final scene of a play, in which all the story lines come together. Gogol wrote about this in an article devoted to The Last Day of Pompeii, comparing the painting “in its vastness and the connection of all the beautiful with the opera, if only the opera is really a connection of the triple world of arts: painting, poetry and music. The writer drew attention to one more feature: “His figures are beautiful for all the horror of his situation. They drown it out with their beauty.

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William Turner. Eruption of Vesuvius, 1817 | Photo:

When 6 years later, in 1833, the work was completed and the painting was exhibited in Rome and Milan, Bryullov was waiting for a real triumph. Italians did not hide their delight and gave the artist all kinds of honors: on the street in front of him passers-by took off their hats, at his appearance in the theater all rose from their seats, at the door of his house gathered many people to welcome the painter. Walter Scott, who was in Rome at the time, sat in front of the painting for several hours, and then came to Bryullov and said: “I expected to see a historical novel. But you have created a lot more. This is an epic…”

Modern Pompeii | Photo:

Modern Pompeii | Photo:

In July 1834, the painting was brought to Russia, and here the success of Bryullov was no less astounding. Gogol called The Last Day of Pompeii “a universal creation” in which “everything is so powerful, so bold, so harmoniously brought together into one, as only it could arise in the mind of a universal genius. Baratynsky wrote a laudatory ode to Bryullov, lines from which later became an aphorism: “And The Last Day of Pompeii was the first day for the Russian brush! And Pushkin dedicated poems to this painting: “Vesuvius opened its yawn – smoke billowed like a club – the flame rose like a battle flag. The earth stirs – The idols of the crumbling columns fall! The people, driven by fear, under the rain of stone, under inflamed ashes, Crowds, old and young, flee from the city.

Brullov's painting in the museum | Photo:

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Last Day of Pompeii in Kagoshima

Tourists visiting Southern Italy and its jewel, the city of Naples, have the opportunity to enjoy beautiful views, including a majestic mountain just a few kilometers from the city limits.

The mountain is only 1,281 meters high and does not look intimidating, especially if you do not know its name – Vesuvius. It is the only active volcano in continental Europe and one of the most dangerous volcanoes known to mankind.

For those who do not find the appearance of Vesuvius frightening, the locals advise to go to the coast of the Bay of Naples, east of Naples. There are three ancient cities – Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabia, where life ended in one day on August 24, 79, when the volcano spoke in full force.

In the first century AD there were no serious and systematic observations of volcanoes, including Vesuvius. And it is unlikely that they would have helped – Vesuvius has not been active since the Bronze Age and was long considered extinct.

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In 74 B.C. Spartacus and gladiators who joined him were hiding from the persecutors on Vesuvius covered with luxuriant vegetation at the very beginning of their rebellion.

The locals felt no threat from the volcano’s vicinity.

“Ancient Roman Rublevka” was founded by Hercules.

The largest of the ancient cities neighboring Vesuvius was Pompeii, founded in the VI century BC. After its capture by the Roman dictator Sulla in 89 B.C. the city, which was considered a colony of Rome, had about 20 thousand inhabitants, according to contemporary estimates. It was an important point on the trade route between Rome and southern Italy, and such a favorable location was one of the reasons for its prosperity.

Pompeii is also somewhere in between a Roman resort and a Rublevka – many noble Roman citizens had their villas there.

The nearby Herculaneum, like Pompeii, was founded in the 6th century BC. Its foundation was attributed to Hercules, who did one of his feats in these places and “marked” the event by the foundation of not even one, but two cities (the second was just Pompeii).

The city, situated directly on the seashore, had long been used as a port and was successfully developing. But by 79 the best time for Herculaneum was already in the past – the city was badly damaged by a strong earthquake in 62, and by the time of a new catastrophe it was inhabited by no more than 4000 people.

Stabia was considered a city only conventionally by 79 AD. Once quite a large settlement was in fact completely destroyed during the “visit of Sulla” in 89 B.C., as a result of which Pompeii lost its independence.

The city was not rebuilt, but for their villas took fancy to representatives of the Roman aristocracy among those who had not made their way to the “Rublevka” in Pompeii.

The end of the world in the afternoon

Less than 20 years before the eruption of Vesuvius, there was a massive earthquake in the area. A number of villages near Herculaneum and Pompeii were completely destroyed, the cities themselves were very seriously damaged.

Human memory, however, can quickly erase unpleasant memories. In 17 years, much of what was destroyed was rebuilt again. This is especially true of Pompeii, which has become even better than before. The sights of the city were a temple of Jupiter, a forum and an amphitheater that could hold almost the entire population of Pompeii.

Life in Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabia went on as usual until August 24, 79. Moreover, on that day people flocked to the Pompeian amphitheater to watch gladiatorial fights.

The eruption began in the afternoon of August 24th and was a complete surprise to the citizens of nearby towns and villages. Vesuvius threw a huge cloud of red-hot ash into the sky. The heat released by the volcano during the eruption was many times greater than the energy released during the bombing of Hiroshima. The cloud of rocks, ash and smoke reached a height of 33 kilometers. The western part of the volcano exploded, plunging into the widening crater.

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Despite the horror of what happened, the catastrophe was not lightning-fast for the townspeople. The ash fall, while making it difficult to breathe and move around the city, was not fatal. All who were able to assess the imminent threat began to flee the endangered cities in rapid succession. But not everyone could objectively assess the degree of danger.

Flee whoever wants to

The famous Roman writer Pliny the Elder, who was commander of the galley fleet at Misen at the gulf of Naples in 79 AD, was attracted by the enormity of the eruption and made his way to Stabia in order to observe the violent eruption and help the victims. Arriving in Stabia after a few hours, he was unable to leave due to the rising tide. While calming the frightened inhabitants and waiting for the sea conditions to change, Pliny the Elder died suddenly. According to one version, sulfuric fumes were the cause of his death.

From the letters of his nephew Pliny the Younger, we know that the disaster developed over a long period of time. Pliny the Elder, for example, died on the night of August 26, more than a day after the eruption began.

According to researchers, the fatal blow to Pompeii and Herculaneum were caused by pyroclastic flows – mixture of high-temperature (up to 800 degrees Celsius) volcanic gases, ash and stones, capable of speed up to 700 kilometers per hour. It was the pyroclastic flows that caused the death of most of the people left in Herculaneum.

However, these flows fell on the city not earlier than 18 to 20 hours after the start of the catastrophe. All this time the residents of the city had an opportunity to avoid death, which, apparently, most took advantage of.

It is difficult to establish the exact number of victims of the catastrophe, because the numbers are of different order. But according to contemporary estimates, it is likely that of the 20,000 inhabitants of Pompeii about two thousand died. In Stabia and Herculaneum the death toll was less due to the fact that they themselves were much smaller than Pompeii.

Pliny the Younger did not witness what happened at Pompeii and Herculaneum, but he left evidence of the panic at Mizena, which survived the disaster: “The panic-stricken crowd followed us and (as any soul distraught with terror, any suggestion seems more prudent than its own) pressed on us in dense mass, pushing us forward as we came out. We froze in the midst of a most dangerous and terrifying scene. The chariots we ventured out shook back and forth so violently, though they stood on the ground, that we could not hold them up, even by putting large stones under the wheels. The sea seemed to have rolled back and pulled away from the shores by the convulsive movements of the earth; definitely the land had widened considerably, and some of the sea animals were on the sand. Finally, the terrible darkness began to dissipate little by little, like a cloud of smoke; daylight appeared again, and even the sun peeked out, though its light was gloomy, as it is before an approaching eclipse. Every object that appeared before our eyes (which were extremely weakened) seemed changed, covered with a thick layer of ash, as if it were snow.”

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Preserved History

After the first impact, a second wave of pyroclastic flows followed to finish the job. Pompeii and Stabia were under a layer of ash and pumice up to 8 meters deep; at Herculaneum the layer of ash, stones and mud was about 20 meters.

Who died in Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabia?

Among the victims of the eruption were many slaves who had been left by their masters to guard their property. There were the elderly and the sick who could not leave the cities because of their condition. There were also those who thought they could wait out the disaster in their own homes.

Some of the victims of the eruption, having already left the city, remained dangerously close to it. They died of poisoning from the gases released during the Vesuvian rampage.

The huge masses of ash and pyroclastic flows “preserved” the cities and those who remained in them as they were at the time of their death.

The surviving residents made no attempt to excavate at the site of the tragedy, simply moving to a new location.

The dead cities were remembered only in the XVIII century, when after a new eruption of Vesuvius workers in the area came across ancient Roman coins. For a time the area became a paradise for gold prospectors. Later they were replaced by hunters of rarities in the form of statues and other historical relics.

The Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli began a full-scale excavation of Pompeii. It was he who discovered that voids had formed in the place of human and animal bodies buried under a layer of volcanic ash. By filling these voids with plaster, he was able to reconstruct the death poses of the victims of the eruption.

With Giuseppe Fiorelli began the systematic work of scientists in Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabia, which continues to this day.

As for Vesuvius, 2014 is the 70th anniversary of its last major eruption. However, scientists are convinced – the longer it is silent, the more powerful will be its next blow.

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