A large and comprehensive exhibition of archeological treasures from the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum will come from Italy to the United States this spring.
If "Pompeii - A.D. 79" matches in public impact a similar Italian exhibition last year in London, the show would draw crowds on the scale of the Tutankhamum show now touring the U.S. Unlike the Tut show and the earlier exhibition of ancient Chinese artifacts, the Pompeii show is not schedlued to come to Washington.
In addition to art objects, furniture and tools uncovered at the sites, the exhibit will include archeological models and a visual display designed to demonstrate "the full impact of the eruption" of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. that left the cities buried, and substantially preserved, in lava and ash.
Details were confirmed by officials at the National Edowment for the Humanities, which is sharing the $202,000 cost with the Xerox Corp. They described the show as "an effort to tell the story of life in those cities. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where the show opens April 15, declined comment.
J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery of Art, said he considered bringing the Pompeii show here and traveled to London to see the version at the Royal Academy.
"We finally concluded against it because we vefelt the show did not lie enough within the basic thrust of the Gallery. I mean that the show was more humanistic and sociological than artistic. There is sculpture and frescoes and plenty of other art, but you're just not able to transport a lot of it - including those major mosaics.
"There's no question of its enormous popular appeal, but that can't be the only criterion, and we had to make a call."
Brown said he was unaware of the Boston Museum's interest in a Pompeii exhibit at the time and denied that the decision was affected by the Gallery's policy that all international shows that appear at the Gallery must begin their American tours here.
After Boston, the Pompeii exhibit will go to Chicago's Institute of Fine Arts and then to the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. It also is tentatively scheduled to be displayed at New York's Museum of Natural History.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art's director emeritus, Thomas P.F. Hoving, said he saw the London show, but "never seriously considered it because of scheduling problems. I agree with Carter (Brown) that it is not really an art show. But there's no question that it's a fine show about a strange phenomenon. After alal, there's only one Pompeii."
The National Endowment also has given about $100,000 in support of digs at the sites.
Modern archeology began with the first excavations at Pompeii in the mid 18th century. Generations of archeologists have found that much of the city and objects in it that survived the initial destruction were preserved unscathed.
The rarity of many of the objects is the source of their artistic value. Brown observed, "It may not have been one of the highest points in the history of art, but it gives us our only window, for instance, into ancient Greek painting."