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Enhancing the Villa of the Mysteries Exhibition

Cover of the “Villa of the Mysteries” catalogue.

“The Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii: Ancient Ritual, Modern Muse,” curated by Elaine Gazda, opened October 1 and runs through November 19 at both the Kelsey Museum and the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). The exhibition, described in detail in the Kelsey Museum Newsletter for Spring 2000, focuses on a well-known ancient fresco cycle discovered in 1909 on the walls of a room in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii. This major exhibition is accompanied by a wide array of related events and resources.


A virtual version of the Villa exhibition is available online at:

The website offers visitors a preview of the themes and objects on display while also providing an overview for those who will not have the opportunity to see the exhibition in person. Designed to appeal to both scholars and the general public, the website features a virtual presentation of the exhibition as well as an interactive virtual tour of the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii and its famous fresco cycle. Still in progress, the website will also eventually include an interactive Quicktime video that allows web surfers to view the actual museum galleries with the Villa show on display. Web visitors are encouraged to explore further the issues and themes of the exhibition through relevant bibliographies and links to other internet sites about Pompeii, Roman women, and Roman religion. The website also provides information on events planned to coincide with the exhibition, enumerated below.

Created by U-M Classical Art and Archaeology graduate students Molly Swetnam-Burland and Elizabeth de Grummond with the assistance of Drew Wilburn, the Villa website is a project of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, developed in conjunction with the Alumni Association’s celebration of 130 years of women at the University of Michigan. The production of the virtual visit to Pompeii was sponsored in part by the U-M Institute for Research on Women and Gender.


The conference “Ritual, Reception, Response: The Villa of the Mysteries Revisited” will be held Friday, October 27 through Sunday, October 29 in Angell Hall and UMMA. Sessions include presentations and discussions by distinguished scholars who will address women and culture in ancient Italy, sources for the iconography in the Villa paintings, and new interpretations of the frescoes. Bettina Bergmann, Professor of the History of Art at Mount Holyoke College and a specialist in Roman painting, will give the keynote lecture, “Villa of Riddles: A Century of Fascination,” Friday, October 27 at 7:30. For more information, call 734-764-9304.


A 262-page catalogue accompanying the exhibition includes thirteen intrepretive essays by Curator Elaine Gazda, Professor of the History of Art Diane Kirkpatrick, and graduate students Jessica Davis, Elizabeth de Grummond, Catherine Hammer, Shoshanna Kirk, Brenda Longfellow, Molly Swetnam-Burland, and Drew Wilburn. Catalogue entries describe and illustrate each object in the exhibition. Five color plates, five color maps, and more than 170 black and white photographs make this richly illustrated guide to the exhibition an important resource for anyone interested in the scholarly controversies surrounding the Villa frescoes. The catalogue will be distributed by the University of Washington Press.

Educational Kit

As an aid to teachers and fifth-through-twelfth-grade students, the Kelsey’s Curator of Educational Outreach Lauren Talalay and Program Assistant Todd Gerring have prepared a new traveling educational kit on Pompeii. The kit focuses on ritual, cults, and the role of women, with the Villa frescoes providing a focal point. It includes a teacher’s notebook, CD and CD/ROM, slides, videos, twelve books, coins and artifact reproductions, as well as interactive materials. Rental is $20 per ten-day session. Call 734-647-4167 for further information.


Several talks help to put the installation in context. In her opening lecture on October 2, the show’s curator, Elaine Gazda, gave attendees a slide-illustrated introduction to the themes of the exhibition and the objects on display. Her curator’s talk on October 8 stressed the ideas and discoveries that culminated in this exhibition. A gallery talk on October 5 by Brenda Longfellow, a Ph.D. candidate in Classical Art and Archaeology who helped research and organize the exhibition, guided visitors on a personalized tour of the show.

To illustrate how the Villa murals have influenced contemporary artists, Ruth Weisberg, Dean of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California, will speak about her 28-foot mixed media drawing, Initiation, which was inspired by the Villa frescoes and is featured in the exhibition. Sponsored by the U-M Institute for the Humanities, Department of Classical Studies, and Program in Comparative Literature, Weisberg’s lecture is scheduled for Thursday, October 26, 5:00 p.m. at UMMA.

Community Day

A Celebration of Ancient Roman Culture, held Sunday, October 15, from 1 to 5 p.m. at both museums, gives the whole family an opportunity to learn something about the context for the Villa exhibition. Participants can make a fresco or mosaic, learn about volcanos and daily life in Pompeii through a scavenger hunt, hear accounts of the volcanic explosion that buried Pompeii in AD 79, see a modern dance interpretation of the frieze, or watch a play based on Pliny’s letters. Visitors are also invited to bring their own twentieth-century artifact (no bigger than a toaster) and enter the stump-the-future-archaeologist contest. Admission is free, and all ages are welcome.

Teacher Workshop

On Thursday, October 19, from 4 to 7:30 p.m. teachers are invited to a workshop that includes a tour of the Villa exhibition, hands-on activities, and a discussion. Participants receive a comprehensive packet of information, including lesson plan ideas and slides for classroom use. A $20 fee includes the packet and a light supper. For further information, call Debbie Swartz at 734-647-0522.