Last Supper in Pompeii at Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, through January 12, 2020

“When the ash from Mount Vesuvius began raining down on Pompeii in AD 79, people in and around the town were engaged in typical Italian activities – eating, drinking and producing food. Located in the sunny paradise of southern Italy, Pompeii was sandwiched between lush vineyards and fertile orchards to one side and the bountiful waters of the Bay of Naples on the other. The town produced more wine, olive oil and fish-sauce than it could consume, and exported its gourmet products across Italy. Everything from the exquisite mosaics from the villas of the wealthy to the remains found in kitchen drains reveal what the people of Pompeii ate and drank. Last Supper in Pompeii explores this ancient Roman love affair with food (and wine), showing where the Romans got their culinary inspiration and how they exported sophisticated ingredients and recipes across the empire, as far afield as Britain. Many of the 300 objects, on loan from Pompeii and Naples, have never before left Italy. They range from the spectacular furnishings of the Roman dining room to actual food which was carbonized as the volcano erupted.” — Ashmolean Museum

Bacchus (c) Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Marble statue of Bacchus with a panther. AD 50–150. From the ruins of a temple in Piacenza, Emilia-Romagna. 180 x 64 x 38 cm. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Bread (c) Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Fresco wall panel showing the distribution of bread. AD 40–79. Pompeii, House of the Baker. 69 x 60 cm. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Cockerel (c) Parco Archeologico di Pompeii

Still life wall panel fresco showing a cockerel pecking at figs, pears and pomegranates. AD 45–79. Pompeii, House of the Chaste Lovers. 55 x 52 cm. Parco Archeologico di Pompeii

Dinner Party (c) Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Fresco wall panel showing a dinner party with painted messages: FACITE VOBIS SUAVITER EGO CANTO and EST ITA VALEAS (make yourselves comfortable; I am singing; go for it!). AD 40–79. Pompeii, House of the Triclinium. 68 x 72 cm. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Etruscan urn (c) British Museum, London

Painted Etruscan funerary urn and lid Terracotta urn with heroic battle scene and Etruscan inscription: Thana Ancarui Helesa. (Thana Ancarui, wife of Hele) Lid (which does not belong to urn) in the form of a reclining young man Chiusi, Tuscany. 150–100 BC. 75.5 x 58.3 cm. British Museum, London

Fish (c) Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Polychrome mosaic emblema (panel) showing fish and sea creatures. 100–1 BC. Pompeii, House of the Geometric Mosaics. 103 x 103 cm. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Fortuna (c) Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Fresco wall panel showing Isis Fortuna protecting a man flanked by the agathodaemones (protective serpents), with painted message: CACATOR CAVE MALU[m] (‘shitter beware the evil [eye]’). AD 40–79. Pompeii. 68.7 x 80.3 cm. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

H00037117 001

Blue glass cup with white speckles. 50 BC–AD 50. Pompeii. 6.2 x 9.4 cm diameter. Parco Archeologico di Pompeii

Satyr (c) Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Bronze reclining satyr from the rim of a vessel. 500–400 BC. Possibly from Chiusi, Tuscany. 4.5 x 6.8 cm. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Resin lady (c) Parco Archeologico di Pompeii

The body of a woman in her early-30s, preserved in transparent epoxy resin. AD 79. 190 x 120 cm max. Villa B, Oplontis Parco Archeologico di Pompeii

Rhyton (c) Parco Archeologico di Pompeii

Rhyton (drinking or pouring vessel) in the form of a cockerel. AD 1–79. Pompeii, House of the Venus in a bikini. 31.5 x 34.5 cm. Parco Archeologico di Pompeii

Bacchus group from the Temple of Mithras.

Marble head of Serapis wearing a modius (grain measure). AD 180–200. 43 x 22 cm. Walbrook Mithraeum, London © Museum of London

Silver cups (c) Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Gilded silver cups decorated with repoussé olive, vine and myrtle sprays (left to right). 50 BC–AD 150. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Skeleton (c) Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

Monochrome mosaic panel of a skeleton holding two wine jugs. AD 1–50. Pompeii, House of the Vestals. 91 x 70 cm.

Terracotta food (c) Parco Archeologico di Paestum

Terracotta votive food: pomegranates (open and closed); grapes; figs; almonds; cheeses; focaccia; honeycomb; mold; long bread. 360 BC. Tomb 11, Contrada Vecchia, Agropoli Parco Archeologico Di Paestum

Dr. Paul Roberts, Head of the Department of Antiquities and exhibition curator, says: ‘The evocative names given to the excavations (the Villa of the Mysteries; the House of the Tragic Poet) have inspired everything from Victorian exhibitions, swords-and-sandals romances to countless scholarly works. Our fascination with the doomed people of Pompeii and their everyday lives has never waned. What better connection can we make with them as ordinary people than through their food and drink?’

The exhibition is organised in collaboration with The Ministero dei Beni e delle Attivita Culturali e del Turismo, Italy; Parco Archeologico di Pompeii; Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli; Parco Archeologico di Paestum.

Images courtesy Ashmolean Museum.