The Last Day of Pompeii

The Last Day of Pompeii

"The Last Day of Pompeii" is an enormous canvas painted by Karl Briullov in 1830-33.

The Russian painter visited the site of Pompeii in 1828 and made numerous sketches. Depicting the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, the completed canvas was exhibited in Rome to rapturous reviews of critics and thereafter transported to Paris to be displayed in the Louvre. The first Russian artwork to cause such an interest abroad, it gave birth to a wonderful anthologic poem by Alexander Pushkin. Characteristically, Sir Walter Scott declared that it wasn't an ordinary painting but an epic in colours.

The topic is classical, but Briullov's dramatic treatment and generous use of chiaroscuro render it farther advanced from the neoclassical style. In fact, "The Last Day of Pompeii" exemplifies many of the characteristics of romanticism as it manifests itself in Russian art, including drama, realism tempered with idealism, increased interest in nature, and a zealous fondness for historical subjects.

The commissioner, Prince Anatole Demidov, donated it to Nicholas I of Russia who had it displayed at the Imperial Academy of Arts for the instruction of young painters. Upon the opening of the Russian Museum in 1895, the vast canvas was transferred there, so that a larger number of people could see it in person.

If one looks in the upper left corner of the painting, under the steeple one can see a self portrait of the artist. He is a beaming visanage peering at the art about to collapse. He is one of the several focuses in the picture, but not easy to identify. painting-stub

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