Historical Context

A small fluvial port on the Sarno River, Pompeii had thrived as a Roman colony for over two centuries. Its inhabitants had no recollection of Mount Vesuvius’s previous eruptions, which dated back to the seventh century B.C. On August 24, 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted, spewing a gigantic cloud of molten rock and pulverized pumice some thirty kilometres into the air. Tons of pumice, rocks and ashes rained down on Pompeii, piling up on the streets and collapsing roofs and walls.

Although the eruption had caught the inhabitants completely by surprise, most of them managed to escape. Only those who took shelter indoors were doomed. Paradoxically, the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius contributed to preserving much of Pompeii, which remained relatively undisturbed under metres of ashes for centuries.

Down through the centuries, Pompeii was never totally forgotten by the locals. Although it was often pillaged by the local tombaroli (clandestine diggers) for marble and statues, official excavations did not begin until the eighteenth century, when the Bourbon kings expropriated much of the surrounding land and began a frantic campaign of recovery, collecting statues and mosaics and storing them in the royal repository. Like the legendary phoenix rising from the ashes, Pompeii emerged once again, a Roman city frozen in time. Marvellous relics, such as the imposing herm of Claudius Cornelius Rufus, were discovered, and entire buildings were freed from the hardened ash.

An Italian umbrella pine tree of the type described by Pliny the Younger,
in front of Mount Vesuvius

Overview of the Exhibition

The Montreal presentation of Pompeii is a unique multisensorial experience that immerses visitors in the daily life of this Roman town before the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, 79 A.D. This original exhibition design incorporates archaeological artifacts from Pompeii within the market place, the home and garden, environments that have been re-created using state-of-the-art visual effects and soundscapes. The exhibition culminates with a multimedia re-creation of the volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii under metres of ash for centuries.

Fresco of the distribution of bread
Painted plaster
Pompeii, tablinum, House of the Baker
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (MANN)

A City Frozen in Time

Travel back in time: stroll along the bustling streets of this once thriving Roman town, visit its markets, shops and temples and rub shoulders with its inhabitants, sculpted in marble for posterity.

Fresco of fighters
Painted plaster
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (MANN)

Leisure and Entertainment

Discover Pompeians’ appreciation for music, theatre, gaming and athletic prowess. Statues of actors and athletes, as well as erotic art, provide a glimpse of the Pompeian art of living and their thirst for pleasure. The exhibition also features three works that are exclusive to the Montreal presentation: artifacts on special loan from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli that highlight the inhabitants’ interest in exercise and physical fitness.

Fresco of a woman attending to her hair
Painted plaster
Stabiae, triclinium, Villa Arianna
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (MANN)

The Home: The Art of Living

Learn about the Pompeians’ passion for life and luxury through the re-creation of an upper-class home featuring sumptuous wall paintings, mosaics and furnishings. In the more intimate space of the home, discover life through the eyes of the woman, her role in society, her fashion, beauty and jewellery.

The Eruption

Experience the eruption of Pompeii in an immersive experience created by Montreal-based Graphics eMotion. Capture the different phases of the nineteen-hour eruption, from the early tremors to the final pyroclastic clouds that sealed Pompeii’s fate in this seven-minute multimedia presentation.

The Rediscovery

Gain an appreciation of the human tragedy of Pompeii, which is tastefully rendered by integrating the presentation of fourteen casts of victims, including the emblematic dog from the House of Orpheus, with Soleil noir, a beautiful contemporary work by French video artist Laurent Grasso.

With footage taken by a drone flying high above Pompeii’s deserted streets and the moonlike, menacing views of the island of Stromboli, Black Sun (a 16mm film shot in 2014 for the exhibition Soleil Double) reflects on to the relationship between the artificial and the natural, the inert and the living, the landscape and humanity – even in the absence of any humans.

Plaster cast
Pompeii, House of Orpheus
Soprintendenza Speciale per Pompei, Ercolano e Stabia (SSPES)

Photo © Sven Hoppe / dpa / CORBIS


From the Renaissance to Neoclassicism in France and Italy

January 12 – June 26, 2016

The presentation of Pompeii provided the perfect opportunity to highlight a selection of Neoclassical drawings from the Museum’s collection. These works on paper reveal that while Ancient Greece and Rome had long served as inspiration for artists, the discoveries at Herculaneum and Pompeii in the eighteenth century renewed this interest.

Learn more

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)
Veduta dell’ Anfiteatro Flavio detto il Colosseo [View of the Flavian Amphitheatre, called the Colosseum]
From the series “Views of Rome”
Etching, state I/IV
49.7 x 71 cm
MMFA, gift of James B. Allan.


The exhibition Pompeii is organized in partnership by the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, in collaboration with the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli and the Soprintendenza Pompei.

The exhibition is curated by Laura Vigo, archaeologist and curator at the MMFA, under the direction of Paul Denis, Assistant Curator at the Royal Ontario Museum, in collaboration with Kate Cooper, Research Associate at the Royal Ontario Museum.

The MMFA worked with the architectural firm In Situ, Uniform, Graphics eMotion, as well as Lysanne Pépin, for the exhibition design, under the direction of Nathalie Bondil, Director and Chief Curator of the MMFA, and Sandra Gagné, Head of Exhibitions Production.

François Filiatrault, early music consultant, compiled a sound track to enhance the atmosphere of the banquet hall.

This project was made possible thanks to the generous support of RBC, presenting sponsor, in association with Metro and Moira and Alfredo Romano. The Museum wishes to thank the Volunteer Association for its indispensable contribution, as well as Air Canada, Bell, Ciot, Tourisme Montréal, Zonin, Il gruppo dell’arte – Judith Bérard and Jean Rizzuto, La Presse and the Montreal Gazette.

The Museum extends its thanks to the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec and the Canada Council for the Arts for their ongoing support. The exhibition also received support from the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Canada Travelling Exhibitions Indemnification Program. The Museum’s International Exhibition Programme receives financial support from the Exhibition Fund of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Foundation and the Paul G. Desmarais Fund.

The Museum also thanks its Volunteer Guides for their unconditional support, as well as all of its VIP members and the many individuals, companies and foundations that have shown their support and generosity, especially the Fondation de la Chenelière, directed by Michel de la Chenelière, and the Arte Musica Foundation, presided over by Pierre Bourgie.

We would also like to extend our gratitude to all those who, through their generous assistance, encouragement and support, made this exhibition possible.