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A breast is a breast is a breast
Alide Cagidemetrio
13 June 2022
published in Issue One

To contemplate Pompeii is to contemplate archeology in its most extreme form, framed by the wish not only for discovery, but for resurrection.


A single breast of a young woman was uncovered in Pompeii in 1772. This sensational discovery attracted the attention of William Hamilton, British ambassador to the Kingdom of Naples, antiquarian, archeologist, and husband of Emma, the famous mistress of Lord Nelson. In his Account of the Discoveries at Pompeii: Communicated to the Society of Antiquaries in London (1777), Hamilton informed his fellows about the extraordinary excavation of the Villa of Diomedes, and the objects of domestic use found there: pieces of jewelry, coins, wine jars, fragments of fabric. Most remarkable, though, were the human remains: « eight adult skeletons, and the skeletons of two children. » They were preserved, he explained, by stages in Vesuvius’s eruption (he was an amateur vulcanologist, too): the city was « first covered by a shower of hot pumice-stones and ashes, and then by a shower of small ashes mixed with water », the hardened mixture of which produced impressions of bodies and objects. « In the Museum of Portici, » he noted, « a piece of that sort of hardened mud is preserved; it is stamped with the impression of the breast of a woman, with a thin drapery over it. » Thus began the long story and public fame of the Pompeian breast.

Ruins of Villa di Diomede in Pompeii, 1865

News travelled fast, and visitors flocked to the Portici Museum, housed in the magnificent neo-classical Royal Residence that had been built in 1738 by the king of Naples, Charles III, an eager collector of antiquities. Lovers of the past paused before the breast in amazement. Perhaps inevitably, they embellished what they saw. The French magistrate Charles Dupaty, in his Lettres sur l’Italie en 1785, set the scene:

I must not forget mentioning one of the most curious monuments of this renowned cabinet – it is the fragments of a crust of ashes, which at one of the eruptions of the volcano, surprised a woman in an instant, and wrapt her entire. These ashes, pressed and hardened by time around her body, have perfectly seized the shape, and moulded it. Several fragments of this kind of plaster preserve the impressions of the different forms they have received.


One of them exhibits half the breast, which is of perfect beauty; the other preserves the form of the shoulder; another part of the back, &c. They jointly proclaim that this woman was young, tall, and finely shaped; by these it is likewise plainly seen, that she was running in her shift, as some remnants of it still adhere to the ashes.

Hamilton had noted the « thin drapery » around the breast; Dupaty gave it a subtle sexual innuendo: a beauty, en déshabillé and ready for love, caught by death. The English translation of Dupaty’s Lettres added « sentimental » to the title, befitting an era of sentimentality and libertinism, when novels of seduction first uncovered a literary young girl’s bosom, that « alabaster breast » so often celebrated by the Marquis de Sade. In Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1748), the libertine Lovelace’s narrates a seduction finally accomplished: « [I] drew aside the handkerchief that concealed the beauty of beauties, and pressed with my burning lips the most charming breast that ever my ravished eyes beheld. »

Vesuvius, 1779

The French architect François Mazois, mining the literary potential of the Portici breast, would canonize a seductive tale of Pompeii. From 1809 to 1811, Mazois made many research visits to Pompeii under the patronage of Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister and the wife of Joachim Murat, then king of Naples. Mazois’ Les Ruines de Pompei – four volumes 1812-1824 – instantly became an indispensable reference for those interested in the buried city. Alongside its exhaustive catalog and fine architectural drawings, Mazois conjured an anonymous family, living the life of ease and pleasure in the « delightful » suburban villa that was soon to be their grave. The climax comes on August 23, 79 AD, and Mazois’s narration now feels cinematic:

Too close to Vesuvius not to suffer from the first effects of the eruption, this house must have been hit from the beginning by ashes and debris which fell in great abundance… Thus struck by terror, the masters and servants of the house … looked for salvation in different ways. The young girl, whose beauty a miraculous chance cannot allow us to doubt, dressed, as it was recognized, with precious fabrics, at the first alarm sought refuge in a cellar, followed by her mother and their servants. The thick and solid vault of this crypt, the little passage that a few narrow barbicans left to the ashes and smoke, the amphoras of wine stored in that place and the provisions that were brought down, made everyone look at this place of refuge as a safe haven from a disaster whose dire results no one could predict . . . The heat, strong enough to carbonize the wood and vaporize the finest part of the ashes, started to penetrate the cellar… Soon one could breathe only a sulphureous smoke filled with burning dust; desperation preceded but a few instants their agony, they rushed towards the door already encumbered by debris, ashes, scoria, and died falling on each other in such anguish that it makes us tremble only thinking of it.

Miraculous chance has saved the young girl’s perfect breast – with traces of a fabric « so fine that they remind us of the transparent gauzes which Seneca called woven wind » – as if for us: « Still in their last posture, the actors of that terrible scene, eighteen centuries later, seemed to be waiting for us to retrace all the horror. » Pompeii became an architectural memento mori.

It is no wonder Mazois’ narration was countlessly repeated. The famous breast reflects what the English architect and cartographer William Barnard Clarke called Pompeii’s « peculiar interest » in the world of archeology. It reflects archeology’s own ability to spin stories, to capture our imagination, to make us feel the past with our senses, to introduce us « to the homes, nay, to the very persons of a long-forgotten age. » Sentimental repetition builds an imaginative grammar for readers, who might then become tourists. A modern invention: I was there.



« The city of the Dead thus invites not so much to know antiquity as to feel it, » Meilee D. Bridges has written, pointing to the new pleasures of Pompeii’s « necromantic pathos ». Sensibility – more than sense – inspires descriptions of the city: a site « buried alive » yet not consumed by time. In From Paris to Pompeii, the literary scholar Goran Blix sees in the discourse of Pompeii’s mortality a key experience of modernity: a new post-revolutionary awareness of « individual mortality as well as the mortality of cultures. » Chateaubriand, on his visit in 1804, found in the young girl’s breast the occasion for a universal memento mori:

I was shewn, at Portici, a piece of cinder from Vesuvius, which crumbles into dust when touched, and which preserves the impression (although daily diminishing) of the arm and breast of a female, who was buried under the ruins of Pompeii. Though not flattering to our self-love, this is a true emblem of the traces left by our memory in the hearts of men who are themselves but dust and ashes.

Pompei, empreinte humaine

Death bestows immortality to its human victim through the distinction of art. « Death, like a statuary, modelled his victim. » Death itself creates human semblances in Pompeii; the viewer’s imagination must reconstruct the whole.

To contemplate Pompeii is to contemplate archeology in its most extreme form, framed by the wish not only for discovery, but for resurrection. Death is the artist, as Chateaubriand put it, and the living feel a Pygmalion-like need to bring life back into the statuary it created. Archeologists themselves hybridized objective observations of Pompeii’s human remains with fanciful stories about those humans’ lives and deaths. But bringing back the dead to a narrated life was the task of novelists, who gave form to the earliest and most titillating archeological fantasies. Two novels set the tone: Thomas Gray’s The Vestal, or a Tale of Pompeii (1830) and especially Edward Bulwer Lytton’ s The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), the most famous tale of the buried city. Gray’s preface made a tall claim: « in the following tale I have not only entered the houses of the Pompeians, I have even occupied their very bones. » Edward Bulwer-Lytton confessed his « keen desire…to reanimate the bones which were yet spared ».

The novels share a similar plot: a couple of pure lovers already inspired by the Christian faith is kept apart by a series of obstacles, engineered by a lustful, amoral antagonist obsessed by the desire to possess the young, chaste, and beautiful girl. In Gray’s novel the girl is Lucilla, promised to Lucius, and in The Last Days of Pompeii she is Ione, the beloved of Glaucus. The novels end with Vesuvius’s eruption and the death of antagonist.  Bulwer-Lytton’s reunited lovers escape; Gray’s die in the tempest of cinder and ash. Both novels resurrect the breast: in Gray’s novel it belongs to Porcia, the sister of Lucius, « gentle » and « ingenuous », discreet and pure, a true home angel. Bulwer-Lytton, by contrast, embodies it in Julia, a coquette, « one of the handsomest of Pompeii », with a « bold Roman profile, a full dark bright eye and a cheek over whose natural olive art shed a fairer and softer rose. » The destiny of Bulwer-Lytton’s Julia comes in the novel’s archaeological coda:

In the house of Diomed, in the subterranean vaults, twenty skeletons (one of a babe) were discovered in one spot by the door, covered by a fine ashen dust, that had evidently been wafted slowly through the apertures, until it had filled the whole space. There were jewels, and coins, candelabra for unavailing light, and wine hardened in the amphoræ for a prolongation of agonized life. The sand, consolidated by damps, had taken the forms of the skeletons as in a cast; and the traveller may yet see the impression of a female neck and bosom of young and round proportions – the trace of the fated Julia! It seems to the inquirer as if the air had been gradually changed into a sulphurous vapor; the inmates of the vaults had rushed to the door, to find it closed and blocked up by the scoria without, and in their attempts to force it, had been suffocated with the atmosphere.

Following Sir Walter Scott, who dubbed Pompeii the « city of the dead » and whose literary fortune was made by reviving the past, novelists incorporated new interests into their historical tale: archeology, architecture, geography, anthropology – the where and the way of the lives of the past. The first edition of Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days sold 10.000 copies, second in sales only to Walter Scott’s Waverley. Readers became tourists, carrying the novel to Pompeii as a recipe for their own romance of resurrection. Travel guides would later resort to the novel’s descriptions and characters, thus turning the city of the dead into a visitable « Lytton’s city ».

The novel’s success also contributed to Pompeii’s soft-porn flair, subtly exploiting the erotic charm of the many graphic artefacts found in the scores of « lupanari », its houses of pleasure. In 1821, such artefacts had been hidden away in the « Secret Cabinet », or the « Cabinet of Obscene Objects »—access allowed by petition only, to visitors of « great maturity and well-known moral standing. » The imagination of the excluded could be fed by the fictional lingering on robust sexual appetites menacing the purity of chaste females. Bulwar-Lytton’s villain, Arbaces—the priest of Isis, the lustful, ruthless antagonist of Ione and Glaucus—« inherited both the appetite for sensuality and the glow of imagination which struck light from its rottenness ». Like Matho in The Vestal, he imprisons his victim, and stages elaborate and cruelly sadistic attempts to rape her. Orgies appear to be every-night events; crapula and greed go together in that pagan world, where gladiators fought each other to spectacular death, and savage beasts devoured meek, defenseless Christians.

This is not surprising: both nineteenth-century Catholics and Protestants were aware of and fascinated by the potential damage that erotic images would bring to the nicely crafted discourse of the resurrected Campanian fragments. Both Bulwer-Lytton and Gray answer the danger with a melodramatic contrast between evil sexual mores and good moral life. The good Pompeiians are given ideal Greek values that merge seamlessly with the Christian faith. Bulwer-Lytton’s hero and heroine are both of Greek descent, while their adversaries are Egyptian (Arbaces), Roman (Julia), and Etrurian (a hideous Vesuvian witch). This ethnic arrangement betrays Bulwer-Lytton’s preoccupation with Empires: with, that is, the present and future of the British Empire, and with the lessons to be learned from the decline and fall of ancient ones. Pompeii is « a showbox, » he wrote, a phantasmagoria in which « you beheld a model of the whole empire ». Edward Gibbon warned that Romans had lost their civic virtues, corrupted by the « vices of strangers. » The Victorian Bulwer packaged salvation in a bundle Greek ideals and Christian faith, even if there weren’t, after all, any Christians in the Pompei of 79 AD.



In 1855, Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition in London included the Pompeian Court, a celebration of iron, steam, and the march of the British Empire. A model for domestic architecture in the Crystal Palace, the Court was inspired by the most famous Pompeian houses, including the Villa of Diomedes, but first and foremost by the « house of the poet » where Glaucus lives in Bulwer-Lytton’s novel. Critics praised the reproduction’s accuracy and attention to detail. Yes, the Court Atrium had an « increased scale, » one noted, but the anomaly was « better suited to a Palace in the capital of the Empire, » and thus justified.

Dans la maison pompéienne

The French empire engaged in its own projections. The first stone of the Parisian Pompeian villa was laid the same year. In the footsteps of Napoleon’s Egyptian dreams, his nephew Prince Jerome had the Palais Pompeien built between 1855 and 1860. In its jardin d’hiver he placed a statue of Victory surrounded by several busts of Napoleon the First, representing the great man at different stages of his life. The inauguration was attended by Napoleon III and his wife Eugénie. Mademoiselle Favart, a famous actress of the Théâtre-Français, performed a monologue, lying on a sofa as if resurrected from the dead: La Femme de Diomède, the one of the breast.

The monologue was written by Théophile Gautier, who had visited Pompeii years before. Gautier praised the architects and painters who had perfectly reproduced the ancient city. Their resurrection of the past was a paradoxical achievement of modernity: it encapsulated the same modern movement that was changing Paris itself, that Benjaminian capital of the nineteenth century. « Antiquity », Gautier would write in 1866,

is the eternal source of youth of the human spirit: there is nothing new but that which is old…Modern life has revived the ancient life. The villa abruptly gobbled by a flood of ashes, preserved intact in the bowels of the earth is resurrected all of a sudden on the face of the modern centuries…researchers and artists as we are, we have given back movement to inanimate Pompeii.

Writers, painters, sculptors, architects, fashion designers – all may find in Pompeii their source of inspiration. They all can go to Vesuvius by train, as Gautier noted, the same way the citoyens come to Montmartre! New technologies – the railroad, the panorama – erased the gap between past and future. The archeological imagination is a modern thing, and the past can be resurrected, democratically, by anybody.

Women at work during the excavation

For newly minted modern tourists, there was no site like Pompeii to experiment with personal, almost á la carte, resurrections. « The illusion of resurrection was the final object of the new gaze » writes Goran Blix. When Gautier wrote about the Palace Pompeien, Giuseppe Fiorelli, the new director of Pompeii’s excavation, had already reorganized the site’s topography and opened it to the general public with the payment of a ticket. On Easter, 1868, Thomas Cook himself led tourists to Pompeii, inaugurating his first package tour there. They came by train to the model of modern archeological sites: well-organized, with professional guides and its own museum – the Antiquarium, built in 1861. To spur consumption, Fiorelli devised the technique of pouring liquid plaster of paris into the cavities left by cadavers, producing casts whose materiality let people « see » the dead. (3.800.000 tourists visited Pompeii in 2019; that year, its Antiquarium exhibited some of the stolen objects – Pompeian fetishes, fragments, figurines – that visitors over the years had sent back, out of shame or for fear of bad luck.)

Pompeian narrations shifted to the fantastic, telling of the modern tourist’s personal experience of the resurrected past. Once again it all starts with the breast. In Gautier’s Arria Marcella (1852), a young Parisian, Octavian, travels by train to Pompeii from Naples, where he had seen that « mass of cinders moulded upon a divinely perfect form » and succumbed to a « mad longing ». Due to some « secret magnetism », the travel through space by train becomes a hallucinatory travel through time, and Octavian finds himself in ancient Pompeii, among ancient Pompeiians going about their daily and nightly occupations.

Octavian encounters Arria—« so dead, yet so radiant with life »—and falls madly in love. She invites him to her heavily perfumed, orientalist boudoir. A femme fatale lurks in this hallucination. Vampire-like, she drinks « a wine darkly purple like thickened blood », and her perfect body is « as cold as the skin of a serpent or the marble of a tomb. » Arria is a romantic chimera, a monster whose body is revealed to be made up of various fragments, a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. Octavian is saved from her embrace by the sound of anachronistic (Parisian?) church bells, which elicit « a sob of agony » from her, and she becomes (or returns to?) an archaeological ruin:

Octavian felt her encircling arms untwine, the draperies which covered her sank fold on fold, as though the contours which sustained them had suddenly given way, and the wretched night-walker beheld on the banquet-couch beside him only a handful of cinders mingled with a few fragments of calcined bones, among which gold bracelets and jewelry glittered, together with such other shapeless remains as were found in excavating the villa of Arrius Diomedes.

The Portici breast – « that superb bosom which had vanquished even Time, and which Destruction itself had sought to preserve » – has made a victim of the delusional young Frenchman. After Arria’s return to ashes, a morbidity will haunt Octavian’s future that not even a pretty English bride can dispel. He could love only the resurrected embodiment of his « retrospective ideal » of woman. In the house of Diomedes, he believed, was buried « one of those sublime personifications of human desires and dreams, whose forms, to mortal eye invisible, live immortally ». But reviving the dead brings back either Phorkyas (Faust’s Mephistopheles in disguise), or Empousa, a phantom that can take the seductive appearance of a beautiful woman and then devour a hapless young man. Arria Marcella is a love-and-death tale where death is love’s pre-condition. Love is an ideal belonging only to an extinct past, of which today only relics remain.



Arria Marcella could be read as a metaphorical tale of archeological hubris, an item of the legendary lore of the curses that attend the uncovering of the dead, of their tombs, of their objects, of their fragments, of the past. The psychotic protagonist of another resurrection novel, Norman Douglas’s Nerinda (1901), is a British aesthete who falls madly in love with the cast of a Pompeian girl, commits murder and suicide in his quest to resurrect her, and is finally diagnosed as a case of « disintegration of personality » by the famous Edwardian « alienist » Henry Maudsley. Is resurrecting the past—building a whole out of the excavated fragments, as archeologists or novelists do—the symptom of an illness, or a method for its cure?

Sigmund Freud dispelled the dangers of archeological hubris, in the revolutionary belief that to uncover that which is buried—« to bring to the light of the day after their burial the priceless though mutilated relics of antiquity »—may instead lead to safety. Fascinated by archeology (he bought and collected hundreds of fragments, including a phallus with wings from Pompeii), Freud adopted archaeological metaphors for the psychoanalytic cure: digging, discovering, and reconstructing through interpretation what was long hidden under the surface of our psyche. « Delusion and Dream » (1906), a close reading of Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva: A Pompeian Fancy (1903), demonstrated the felicity of linking archeology and dream analysis, their method, and their destination, Pompeii.

Freud's « Gradiva »

The protagonist of Jensen’s story is a young German archeologist, Doctor Norbert Hanold, who acquires a plaster cast of a fragment seen in Rome, a tourist souvenir enclosing within a rectangular frame a gracefully walking young lady with an uplifted foot. He hangs it in his study in Germany (as Freud himself later would, in Vienna). The young man’s archeological gaze gives way to a fetishist contemplation of her lifted foot. He gives her the name of Gradiva, or « the girl splendid in walking », and comes to believe that her foot must have stepped on the stones of Pompeii. He dreams of following her there and witnessing the destruction of the city. Irritated by the clumsy gaits of the girls he sees in the streets of his hometown, he leaves for Pompeii, where, walking the streets of the archeological site, semi-dazed in the hot midday sun, he sees her: Gradiva. The young scholar addresses her in Greek, then in Latin, to no avail, until she invites him to speak German. Is she real? One day he slaps a fly on her hand; panicked by her reality, he hurries away. At the Villa of Diomedes they meet again and this time she explains who she is: Zoe Bertgang, his forgotten childhood friend, his ignored neighbor of many a social occasion in their native town. Happy ending: Norbert is cured from his delusion by the revelations of the real Zoe, they declare their love and will honeymoon in Pompeii.

Freud would add a proud footnote to the 1909 edition of The Interpretation of Dreams. « I found by chance in Gradiva, a story written by Wilhelm Jensen, a number of artificial dreams which were perfectly correctly constructed and could be interpreted just as though they had not been invented but had been dreamt by real people. » He wrote to Jensen, who « confirmed the fact that he had no knowledge of my theory of dreams. » What better evidence of « the correctness of my analysis of dreams »? The unconscious motivations of Norbert’s « negative hallucination », his dreams and behaviors, Zoe’s dismantling of Hanold’s repression of early childhood eroticism—ultimately, Zoe is the young archeologist’s « childhood friend excavated from the ashes » of Pompeii. Freud can find « no better analogy for repression, by which something in the mind is at once made inaccessible and preserved, than burial of the sort to which Pompeii fell victim. » Gradiva – and Pompeii! – could advertise psychoanalysis at a time of controversy.

Gradiva has itself been buried in Freud’s reading of it, but the great man missed its comedy. The subtle reader of jokes, who in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905) had agreed that a joke is a « playful judgment », missed Jensen’s mockery of the literary tradition of resurrecting Pompeii. In a lighthearted parody, Gradiva replaced Gautier’s Arria Marcella, the voluptuous vampire in an exotic setting (« so dead, yet so radiant with life »), with a domestic pretty girl, « both dead and alive », graciously seated on a ruin as if in a bourgeois drawing room. Instead of Arria’s mysterious blood-wine, « Gradiva » politely offers Norbert some refreshments on the hot day. She does not display her bosom, but dangles her pretty feet, not in Roman sandals but cute leather shoes. The good girl at noon, bored in Pompeii, is no cunning seductress, but amuses herself by confronting and abetting the « foolish reason for his trip » to the city of the dead. She converses with Norbert in plain German. She asks him to forget his pretense of having entered a resurrected space. Next to her, the young archeologist is not a romantic dreamer but a dupe, a comic fool enraged by the Mediterranean flies—and by the noisy lovemaking of his compatriot honeymooners, the « Augustuses » and « Gretchens » disturbing his already disturbed sleep.

Comedy thus takes over the sad Pompeian story. The happy ending of Norbert’s adventure reverses the beautiful girl’s usual unhappy return to ashes—but not before paying last respects to the long tradition, to the iconic skeletons in the vaulted cellar of the « Villa of Diomede »:

…the skeletons of eighteen women and children had been found here; seeking protection they had fled, with some hastily gathered provisions, into the half-subterranean space, and the deceptive refuge had become the tomb of all…The bodies of the unfortunates had been preserved by the hardened ashes; in the museum at Naples there is under glass, the exact impression of the neck, shoulders and beautiful bosom of a young girl clad in a fine, gauzy garment.

His Gradiva, the delusional Norbert notices, always disappears in the neighborhood of the Villa of Diomedes, and he seem to discern there some apparitions: « there, in the vicinity of the Villa of Diomede, a phantom seemed to be looking for its grave, and disappeared under one of the monuments. » It is the shadow of a disappearing Arria to whom the breast belongs. It is Jensen’s farewell to a tradition. Gradiva can step out and she can step in; with Arria distanced by comedy, the breast finally rests in peace.



As for the real breast, a later director of Pompeii’s excavations wrote its obituary. In his 1958 memoir, Amedeo Maiuri, director from 1921 to 1961, records that the breast was there at the first « disinternement » of Pompeii, and moved from museum to museum:

The imprint of that breast was cut from the hardened surface and brought to the Real Gabinetto di Portici… Then from Portici that fragile ash mould, together with the busts of the philosophers, orators and dynasts of the Herculaneum Villa, migrated to the Palazzo degli Studi in Naples,… where it was also exhibited, to the admiration of the curious. And there was no « forestiero » who did not go in search of that « morceau de cendre noire coagulée portant une empreinte creuse ».

The other illustrious breasts in Naples’ collection went curiously ignored:

[Visitors] neglected the flourishing breast of the Psyche of Capua, the adolescent breasts of the divine torso of the Venus in the Farnese collection, the curvaceous nudity of the Callipige who, in that world still of wigs and powdered faces, having dropped her hoop, seemed to happily admire herself turning here and there between the mirrors of a pink alcove; the prosperous bosom of the Junoesque Flora was worthy of just a glance, to rush in search of that empreinte creuse and fantasize about it in a novella or a romance.

Prière de toucher

Besides the « storytellers and romantics, dreamers and poets », there came, as well, the « physiologists and geologists » who experimented with the breast until it simply disappeared. « I did not even find news of its disappearance in the old papers of the archive, » Maiuri notes.  « Perhaps the consignee of the time did not believe that the poor form of ash was worthy of a little note in a discharge report, as required by the state property inventory regulation for worn, out of use, objects. »

Disappeared as an « out of use » object, it fell to Marcel Duchamp to revive the breast by resorting to « falsies ». On each of the thousand covers of André Breton’s Le Surrealisme en 1947, Duchamp pasted a painted latex foam breast, surrounded by a circle of black velvet. Duchamp and his collaborator, Enrico Donati, had crafted the breasts out of items bought at a medical supply shop. On the book’s back cover is added the phrase, « prière de toucher »: please touch it.

Ruins of Villa di Diomede in Pompeii, 1865

Casa di Diomède te Pompeï, 1865; Rijksmuseum Amsterdam; public domain; via Europeana.eu

Gezicht op de ruïnes van de Villa di Diomede in Pompeï, c.1860-1880; Rijksmuseum Amsterdam; public domain; via Europeana.eu.

Stereobild av ruin, Pompei; Tekniska museet; public domain; via Europeana.eu
The Eruption of Vesuvius on August 8, 1779, as seen from the Ponte della Maddalena

Francesco Piranesi (printmaker), Louis Jean Desprez (colorist), after a drawing by Louis Jean Desprez; Uitbarsting van de Vesuvius op 8 augustus 1779, gezien vanaf de Ponte della Maddalena, c.1783; via Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Pompei, empreintes humaines

Michele Amodio, Pompei, empreinte humaine: fouilles 1875 (1904); Vänersborgs Museum; public domain; via Europeana.eu.

Michele Amodio, Pompei escavations 1878. Jeune femme et un homme (1904); Vänersborgs Museum; public domain; via Europeana.eu.

Dans la maison pompéienne

Gustave Boulanger, Répétition du « Joueur de flûte » et de la « Femme de Diomède » chez le prince Napoléon, 1861; Musée d’Orsay; via Wikimedia Commons.

Pierre Ambroise Richebourg, Maison pompéienne du Prince Napoléon, 18 avenue Montaigne, 8ème arrondissement, Paris. Intérieur de l'atrium avec porte de la bibliothèque, entre 1860 et 1866; via Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris (CC0 1.0).

Laplanche J. et Cie, Maison pompéienne du Prince Napoléon, 18 avenue Montaigne, 8ème arrondissement. Statue de Napoléon Premier en César, dans l’atrium, 1863; via Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris (CC0 1.0).

Pierre Ambroise Richebourg, Maison pompéienne du Prince Napoléon, 18 avenue Montaigne, 8ème arron- dissement, Paris. L’atrium, entre 1860 et 1866; via Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris (CC0 1.0).

At work during the excavation

Giorgio Sommer, after anonymous, Fotoreproductie van (vermoedelijk) een schilderij, voorstellend Italiaanse vrouwen tijdens opgravingswerkzaamheden bij Pompeï, c.1860-1890; public Domain; via Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Freud's « Gradiva »

Cast relief of a woman walking gracefully, known as the « Gradiva » (from an original in the Vatican Museum), 1908; via Freud Museum London.

Prière de toucher

Marcel Duchamp and Enrico Donati, cover to Le Surréalisme en 1947: exposition internationale du surréalisme, Galerie Maeght, Paris, July-August 1947, published by Pierre à Feu / Maeght Editeur. Collection Galerie Hummel, Vienna.


William Hamilton, Account of the Discoveries at Pompeii: Ccommunicated to the Society of Antiquaries of London (London: W. Bowyer and J. Nichols, 1777), 15.

Charles-Marguerite-Jean Baptiste Mercier Dupaty, Sentimental Letters on Italy; Written in French by President Dupaty in 1785, vol. 2 (London, 1789), 148-9. See also Eugene Dwyer, Pompeii’s Living Statues, (University of Michigan Press, 2010), 10-16.

Samuel Richardson, Clarissa (Penguin, 1985), 705.

Francois Mazois, Les Ruines de Pompei, Partie 2 (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1824), 90. All translations mine.

William Bernard Clarke, Pompeii, vol. 2 (London: Charles Knight, 1837), 238.

Meilee D. Bridges, « Object of Affection: Necromantic Pathos in Bulwer Lytton’s City of the Dead » in Shelley Hales and Joanna Paul, eds., Pompeii in the Public Imagination from its Rediscovery to Today (Oxford, 2011), 101; Goran Blix, From Paris to Pompeii: French Romanticism and the Cultural Politics of Archeology (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

Chateaubriand, Travels in America and Italy, vol. II (London:, Henry Colburn, 1828), 268-9, 252.

Thomas Gray, The Vestal, or a Tale of Pompeii (1830); Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The Last Days of Pompeii (London: Bentley, 1834).

Bulwar-Lytton, 19-20, 387.

S.J. Hales, « Re-casting Antiquity: Pompeii and the Crystal Palace », Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, Third Series, 1 (2006), 106.

George Scharf, The Pompeian Court in the Crystal Palace (London: Crystal Palace Library, and Bradbury and Evans, 1854), 46.

Theophile Gautier, Le Palais Pompeien (Paris:, Toinon, 1866), 5.

Blix, From Paris to Pompeii, 49. On Fiorelli’s casts, scopophilia and fetishism of the dead, see Shelley Hales, « Cities of the Dead », in Hales and Paul, Pompeii in the Public Imagination from Its Rediscovery to Today, 154-171; Giuseppe Pucci, « Cadaveri eccellenti: Le vittime di Pompei nell’immaginario moderno », in Mare Internum, 4 (2012), 71-90.

Theophile Gautier, « Arria Marcella », in One of Cleopatra Nights and Other Fantastic Romances, translated by Lafcadio Hearn (New York: Brentano, 1900), 213.

Sigmund Freud, « Case Studies » in Collected Papers, Vol.3 (London: Hogarth Press, 1946), 74-5.

Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (New York: Basic Books, 1955 [1909]), 122.

Wilhelm Jensen, Gradiva: A Pompeian Fancy (New York: Moffat, Yard and Co., 1918), 101.

Amedeo Maiuri, Pompei ed Ercolano: tra case ed abitanti (Firenze: Giunti, 1998 [1958]), 39-41.