The painting “The Last Day of Pompeii” by Russian artist Karl Briullov caused quite a sensation in Rome, where it was first exhibited: he was compared to Titian, Michelangelo, and Raphael…

Get a Feeling of That Time (Some History)

More than ten years prior to the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius in 79 BC a powerful earthquake took place which in one way or another affected almost all of the buildings in Pompeii. But the buildings were repaired, and people continued to live.

The eruption itself began as a Plinian eruption (named after Pliny the Elder, who was on the ship, but still died in the eruption of Vesuvius).

The eruption was accompanied by a massive release of magma and ash. A column of ash rose to a height of tens of kilometers. At that pointpeople still had a chance to escape.

Then the fiery masses in the form of pyroclastic flows with a temperature of hundreds of degrees descended on the neighborhoods, destroying everything around.

Then a strong ash fall began which with a multimeter layer completely covered all the destruction.

“My spirit shudders when I recall all that … Thick black fog spreading out on the ground was catching up with us. Nightfall was coming but not like moonless or cloudy: so dark it can only get in a locked room with the lights off. You could hear the cries of women, children squeaking and screaming men … the majority explained that there are no gods in the world and this was the last eternal night. “

An excerpt from a letter of Pliny the Younger to Tacitus

This is how from the earth and from people’s memory for many centuries were erased the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae.

The Painting “The Last Day of Pompeii”

Excavated Pompeii – a perfectly preserved city – makesa strong impression on its visitors. The influence of the city and the related disaster did not escape Karl Briullov either, who visited Pompeii in 1827.

“The view of the ruins unwittingly made ​​me travel back in time …”

K. Briullov

Interestingly, preparation for creating his painting took much longer than the painting process itself: Briullov took his time to research the details of the catastrophe.

Karl Briullov made ​​many sketches of the architecture of Pompeii, which allowed him to transfer in detail the city onto the canvas.

The Last Day of Pompeii by Karl Briullov

The Last Day of Pompeii, oil on canvas (1830-1833)

The painting depicts with documentary precision the course of the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius –the pillar of lava, and an earthquake. In addition, all the details of the painting are historically accurate – from the streets of the city and clothing, to the postures of the people: Briullov spent a lot of time in museums, trying to imagine how people behaved then (a lot of dead bodies were hidden from smoldering by ashes and got preserved to present days).

In addition, the painting reflects some symbolism – the collapse of the “old” world. This vision of the artist became a starting point for the creation of a number of future works.

Russian poet Alexander Pushkin dedicated to the events depicted in the painting by Briullov the following lines:

“Vesuvius opened its jaws – smoke poured out – the flames

Opened up widely, as a battle flag.

The Earth is worried – from shaken up columns

The idols are falling! … “

But most of all, more than the play of light and shade and historical accuracy, the painting amazes with the figures of people. They are better viewed in groups, the same way they were created. This is how it was assumed in the academic traditions of the time.

On the left – a mother with two daughters. This is a portrait of the Countess Samoilova, long-term muse of the artist.

In the center – two sons are carrying their sick old father, and next to them a deceased mother and an infant, reaching for her.

On the right – Pliny the Younger with his mother (Pliny the Youngersurvived the eruption).

“… The mother is begging, persuading, ordering

For me to run away; I replied that I will only be saved with her …”

Pliny the Younger / Letters

On the right – a young man, newlywed is desperately looking into the face of the girl in a wedding crown lying in his hands.

On the left – in the crowd Karl Briullov depicts himself as afleeing artist…

The emotional charge coming from Karl Briullov painting “The Last Day of Pompeii” can be still felt many years after its creation.


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