Plaster Cast from Pompeii : Wiki Commons
A loaf of bread which was put in the oven in AD79 and removed from it in the 1930s, and a charred baby’s cradle which still rocks almost 2,000 years after its owner died, are some of the objects coming to the British Museum this spring for its exhibition on one of the most famous disasters in history: the eruption of Vesuvius.
Real faces of the living inhabitants will include an imposing bronze bust of a banker and money lender, who was also a freed slave as up to half the population may have been. A vivid wall painting portrays a baker, Terentius Neo, and his wife: his wife is nameless but, as MacGregor remarked, she looks much the brighter of the two, standing slightly in front of him and holding a writing tablet – striking evidence of her literacy and status.
The exhibition comes after the international outcryfollowing building collapses at Pompeii two years ago, which led to some calling for the sites and collections to be removed from Italian state control.
MacGregor and Roberts praised the relationship with the Italian authorities in charge of the museum in Naples and the two sites as a true collaboration: the Italians are charging no loan fees, and have allowed unprecedented access to treasures, including sending six pieces of Herculaneum furniture, when no more than two have ever left the country together. Roberts praised the "outstanding work" being done at the sites.
The body casts, which include one woman who was cast in resin instead of plaster so that her bones are visible, will be shown in a separate section at the end. "We recognise that for some people the idea of death will be the most challenging element of the exhibition, but we would prefer that people not avoid the bodies," Roberts said.
He said he found some previous exhibitions of the casts distasteful, when they were shown in lurid lighting or with melodramatic music.
"These are real people, and we will treat them with the greatest respect. If these people had not died, we would not have this exhibition."
• Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, British Museum, 28 March – 29 September 2013.
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