Matadero Madrid center for contemporary creation


The Villa at Herculaneum and its library
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Casa del Lector
An extraordinary show about the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum and its library, the only library of classical antiquity that has survived until today.
At the villa known as 'of the Papyri', at Herculaneum (close to Naples, Italy,) in the 18th century, the only known surviving library of classical antiquity was discovered.  It was preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79 AD.

In order to bring the visitor closer to this library, Casa del Lector and the Virtual Archaeological Museum at Herculaneum (MAV) have designed an exhibition that explains:    

1. What reading meant in ancient Rome (1st century, first part of the exhibition)
2. How archaeological excavations at the villa in modern times were a re-reading that provided a new boost for European cultural history (18th century, second part of the exhibition.

In the first part, “Reading. Herculaneum, the year 79 AD”, we present the virtual reconstruction of the different rooms in the Villa of the Papyi, created from the latest archaeological excavations.  With them we delve deep into the topic of reading and writing in ancient Rome, with original writing tools and a selection of Pompeian paintings, including the best known Pompeian painting: the portrait of Terentius Neo and his wife, an authentic icon of ancient culture.  And we will also have papyri from that library- the only surviving one from classical antiquity- including the only papyrus that has been totally unrolled, measuring more than three meters in length, which belongs to the National Library at Naples, which has permitted it be lent for the first time ever especially for this exhibition.

In the second part of the exhibition, entitled “Re-readings. Herculaneum, 1750”, we present the archaeological excavations that, in the 18th century, uncovered the cities buried by Vesuvius, as a re-reading of the past that revolutionized Europe's cultural history.

The first re-reading, the artistic one, displays the plaster moldings of the sculptures that were gradually found in the Villa of the Papyri and sent to Charles III, as well as the original map of the Villa of the Papyri that Swiss engineer Karl Weber drew in the 18th century, as the person responsible for the excavations.  The second re-reading, the scientific one, presents the work of Piarist Antonio Piaggio and his famed machine designed to open the papyri, a unique artefact that is also leaving Naples for the first time especially for this exhibition.  The third and final re-reading, one dealing with publishing, consists of two significant bibliographic exhibitions.  The first one deals with the Stamperia Reale, the publishing project begun by Charles of Bourbon in Naples.  Its most relevant and famous products are the eight volumes of Le antichità di Ercolano esposte (1757-1792), the work that made it possible for the Neoclassical style to expand throughout Europe, thanks to the dissemination of discoveries at the Vesuvian cities.  The second bibliographic exhibition concerns the impact all over Europe of the excavations until 1800, through the works of the most relevant travelers on the Grand Tour, including several Spaniards.

This major exhibition, curated by Carlos García Gual and Nicola Oddati, uses a double movement- reading and re-reading- to tell one of the most fascinating and decisive stories in European culture.  To aid us, we have Epicurean as a guide, since the library at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum was quite epicurean.

The exhibition, organized by Casa del Lector and the Virtual Archaeological Museum at Herculaneum (MAV), has benefited from the collaboration of the National Library at Naples, the National Archaeological Museum at Naples, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando (Madrid), the National Archaeological Museum (Madrid), National Heritage (Spain), and the Museum of Natural Sciences-CSIC (Madrid).

And it has also benefited from consulting with the scientific committee made up by: Mauro Giancaspro (Director of the National Library at Naples), César Antonio Molina (Director of Casa del Lector, Madrid), Valeria Sampaolo (Director of the National Archaeological Museum at Naples), Ciro Cacciola (Director of the Virtual Archaeological Museum at Herculaneum), Andrés Carretero (Director of the National Archaeological Museum, Madrid), and José María Luzón (Delegate of the Museum of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, Madrid).