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  4. Eros and pathos in Pompeii bridal carriage

Eros and pathos in Pompeii bridal carriage

Rebuilt after restoration in world first

(ANSA) - ROME, APR 29 - (by Silvia Lambertucci) Voluptuous embraces and stolen rapture, violence and pleasure intermingled, eros and pathos. Restored in all its pieces and assembled in an unprecedented operation, the stunning bridal carriage rediscovered two years ago at Pompeii, in the portico of the Villa di Civita Giuliana, where the bodies of the two famed fugitives emerged thanks to casts, has come back to life after 2,000 years, ANSA can exclusively report.
    "Extraordinary work has recovered an artifact that is unique in the world," Massimo Osanna, the director general of the culture ministry's museums departments, says in illustrating the restoration, which he wanted to showcase, in a world premiere, in 'The Instant and Eternity", a major exhibition slated from May 4 to July 4 in the Baths of Diocletian in Rome.
    "(It's) the expression of an Italy capable of extraordinary results that have been attained via collaboration between institutions," applauds Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano, stressing the importance of the joint work of the archaeologists of the Pompeii archaeological park, the Carabinieri police and the prosecutor's office at Torre Annunziata which has made this extraordinary restoration possible.
    Saved by a hair's breadth from the tomb raiders, who had been hunting it for years and who had almost found it by digging umpteen tunnels in search of the treasures from the luxurious villa on the outskirts of Pompeii, this carriage which the Romans called a 'pilentum' was known, in fact, almost exclusively from the images of mosaics and bas-reliefs and the accounts of ancient sources, Livy, Virgil, Claudianus, who linked it to female cults, describing its splendour and comfort.
    The restoration, which after the highly delicate phase of excavation deployed, for a whole year, microscope in hand, the team led by Emiliano Africano, now brings back to our eyes the stupefying object of those accounts.
    "It's almost more like a luxurious coach," underlines Osanna, pointing out every detail while alongside him the restorers assemble with infinite caution the last few pieces under the monumental vaulted ceilings of the Roman baths.
    "A vehicle shining anew with bronze and silver, made to dazzle and enchant".
    Seeing it up close, when the glass case that will protect it from the multitudes of visitors has not yet been mounted, almost takes your breath away.
    "It's incredible how Pompeii has this special ability to freeze the instant," smiles the director general.
    Because despite the inevitable modern interventions - the underlying wood of the undercarriage which has naturally been rebuilt, the plexiglass elements that indicate the missing parts - what we find before our eyes is to all effects a vehicle of 2,000 years ago, marvellous, complex and certainly highly delicate.
    With large wheels which were once in beech wood and iron rims which the horror of the eruption and the ravages of time have spared, the truncated wooden hubs which the phenomenon of mineralization has somehow kept alive, and the long iron linchpin which ensured the movement of the front wheels still there to make steering possible.
    Without mentioning the painted wooden seat - narrow, yes, if you think of it for a girl of today - literally plastered with shiny metals, large and small medallions with erotic scenes which are also very crude, amorini, female figures, a myriad of refined and sometimes microscopic decorations spread everywhere, from the bronze base to the cones that embellished the ends of the hubs. Everything is decorated in this masterpiece of artisanal refinement, even the iron bobbins around which were curled the ropes that are believed to have held up, a little like a cradle, the caisson of the carriage, so as to offer those on top the comfort of a bouncy ride.
    And then the back of the seat of which today there only remains the iron skeleton but which it is easy to imagine covered in leather and comfortable cushions, with the two arms to make the progress of the bride and her companion easier.
    "Who knows, perhaps her mother," hypothesizes Osanna, pointing out that the seat seems to have been made for two persons.
    A carriage similar to this one, he says, was found years ago in Greece, in ancient Thrace, in a tomb belonging to a high-ranking family.
    "In that case, however, it was decided to leave it in the tomb without restoring it or remounting it".
    This, too, makes the operation in the park of Pompeii extraordinary: it is the first time in the world that a pilentum has been rebuilt and studied.
    The restoration work that has made the decorations legible, bringing back to light hundreds of details, confirms this carriage's link with the female world and with marriage.
    "Now we must work on the iconography of the medallions," says Osanna, and then "on the carriage's system of movement".
    Ludovica Alesse and Paola Sabbatucci, the restorers of the Pompeii park, carefully supervise the assembly work. "We were there when the carriage came out, impressed into the cinerite (volcanic-ash rock) were still evident the traces of the ropes, the fabrics, the wood," they recount.
    All things that time has dissolved, like the mark of the wheat sheaf left on the seat.
    A few metres from there, in the large stable, the remains of horses have been found, including a bay that was still in harness.
    Meanwhile the excavations, like the studies, go on.
    Of course, it is hard to say if the young bride really enjoyed that day of celebration. But who knows, perhaps her splendid silver carriage may tell us something more about that. (ANSA).


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