View of the Kelsey Museum’s Roman galleries and light-projection installation. Photo by Eric Campbell.

Ann Arbor, MI, December 4, 2023—The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology recently unveiled an exciting light-projection installation featuring fragments of Roman wall paintings. This new display allows visitors to immerse themselves in the history of interior mural painting in the town of Pompeii from the 3rd century BCE until 79 CE—when the eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried the town in volcanic debris.

The Kelsey Museum installation was developed under the guidance of Nicola Barham, assistant curator of ancient art, in collaboration with Eric Campbell (graphic designer) and Scott Meier (exhibition coordinator). “My vision was to create an immersive experience for museum visitors that would allow the fragments at the Kelsey Museum to tell the story of Roman painting,” Barham said. “The varied fragments in the collection chronicle the changing fashions of Roman painting before the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. That volcanic eruption was a disaster for the Bay of Naples region and brought sudden tragedy to the many towns and settlements within its compass. Yet by sealing whole towns under a thick layer of debris, the volcano preserved many thousands of Roman homes as they looked at that moment, until their rediscovery and gradual excavation some two millennia later.”

The well-preserved murals discovered at Pompeii and Herculaneum attest to the evolution of “four styles” of wall painting in the Bay of Naples region during this period. At the Kelsey Museum, six fragments of wall painting trace the story of these four fresco styles, as each fragment is set into its reimagined original context.

During their research, Barham and Allison Grenda, a PhD student in the University of Michigan’s Department of the History of Art, identified close parallels between the Kelsey Museum fragments and surviving schemes of Roman wall painting. Campbell, the museum’s graphic designer, then worked closely with Barham, using those existing examples to reconstruct imagery of the types of full-scale wall paintings to which the Kelsey Museum fragments would have once belonged. With the artifacts fixed in permanent mounts, a light projector casts the colored designs onto the wall around them, completing the design for each fragment in turn, in rotation.

Due to the delicate nature of ancient paintings, museum staff have taken steps to ensure the safety of the artifacts to avoid prolonged light exposure. In addition to using a projector with precise beams that illuminate the fragments at a safe level, the ambient lighting of the room has been adjusted to minimal levels to provide an extra layer of protection—all the while maximizing the optic effect of the projection.

According to Barham, the new Kelsey Museum installation “allows us to take the strikingly colored, finely detailed fragments in our collection and imaginatively answer some of the questions they raise for visitors: What kind of walls did they come from? How big were these frescoes? What designs did they include? Were the details and patterns preserved on the fragments repeated, or were they surrounded by other motifs? What was it like to stand in a room decorated with such bold colors and rich designs and to live in a space like this?” The hope is that museum visitors will be able to answer these questions for themselves as they become immersed in the visual effect of these paintings—their size, scale, and designs—while standing before the vibrantly colored projection.

About the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

A unit of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan, the Kelsey Museum advances understanding and appreciation of the ancient Mediterranean world through its collections, research, exhibitions, and fieldwork. The Kelsey houses more than 100,000 artifacts from the civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean, including the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, dynastic and Roman Egypt, and the Middle East.

Hours and Admission

The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is open Tuesday–Friday, 9 a.m.–4 p.m., and Saturday–Sunday, 1–4 p.m.; it is closed Mondays and University holidays. Admission is free to all visitors. The Kelsey offers public tours and events throughout the year, both in person and virtual. For further information, see

For more information, please contact

Emily Allison-Siep
Communications Editor
Kelsey Museum of Archaeology