PRIVATE LIVES IN POMPEII
Dionysus enthroned in a Pompeian fresco.
Anyone who has ever visited the haunting ruins of Pompeii will especially appreciate “Pompeii: A Way of Life” (through Feb. 12) at the Musée Maillol, an exhibition that time-machines visitors back to 79 C.E. (the year an eruption of Vesuvius smothered the sophisticated city in ash) in a way the archaeological site doesn’t, providing a real feel for the way people lived and showing how little their lifestyle differed from ours, with one glaring exception: erotic (what we would call pornographic) imagery was an accepted part of everyday life, not something to be hidden away. The houses had advanced heating and plumbing systems, complete with hot and cold running water; a sewer system carried away waste; and many of the domestic furnishings and utensils have an astonishingly modern look and would fit right into our own homes. With their frescoes, fountains, mosaics, gardens and interior courtyards, the dwellings had a grace and beauty that we can only envy today. The exhibition does an excellent job of resurrecting the lives of well-off Pompeians with works of art, individual objects and re-created rooms, along with some plaster casts of humans and animals caught in contorted poses at the moment of their death, which, according to a recent study, was caused by intense heat rather than suffocation by volcanic ash. Heidi Ellison