|In the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology of the University of Michigan is a stunning set of murals copied |
from the originals in the Villa of Mysteries in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. (Museum Website)
The founder of the Kelsey Museum was Francis W. Kelsey, a professor of Latin with an interest in Roman Antiquities. In the 1920s and earlier, Kelsey arranged for the University of Michigan to sponsor archaeological expeditions to obtain materials for teaching; at the time, archaeology projects would split their finds between Italy and the sponsors of the dig. These materials would become the collections of the university’s new museum, which opened in 1928, shortly after his death. The museum was renamed in his honor in 1953.
In 1924, Kelsey commissioned Maria Barosso, an established Italian artist to copy the colorful murals, which had been discovered in 1909 in a villa just outside the city of Pompeii. Color photography of the murals at that time was not feasible, so these large copies were an important way to ensure their preservation and to have copies for the museum he was founding.
Pompeii and the surrounding area had been buried under lava and volcanic debris in the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 of the current era, and were remarkably well-preserved by the debris for almost 2000 years. The Villa of the Mysteries was one of many Roman gentlemen-farmers’ lavish vacation homes in the countryside around Pompeii on the beautiful slopes of the volcanic mountain. The building had been damaged in an earlier earthquake, and was not in use at the time of the eruption except perhaps for storage or wine-making.
The name “Villa of the Mysteries” (Villa dei Misteri) was invented by the modern discoverers. It refers to the scenes in the murals, which are a mystery to modern scholars; the scenes seem to be related to the mystery worship rituals, or mysteries, of the god Dionysus. After Barosso copied the original murals, they fell into disrepair because they were left exposed to the elements; however, they were restored in 2013-2015, and are now part of the UNESCO World Heritage site.
Barosso worked for 18 months to create the watercolor copies of the villa’s frescos. They were first exhibited in Rome in 1926, and then shipped to Ann Arbor, where they were kept in storage until 2008, when a new wing of the museum was built. A special room was created in which to display them in a setting similar to their original location. Prior to this installation, a major conservation project restored the murals so that they can be safely displayed in the museum.
|The Kelsey Museum is located in a historic building from 1891. (Source: the University of Michigan).|
Because we live very close to the Michigan campus, we often stop at the museum and enjoy looking at these murals.
Blog post and photos by mae sander, © 2022