National Museum of Archaeology, Naples

May 23, 2009 at 1:45 am (Art, books, Italian journey, Italy, Travel)



Housed in an elegant edifice dating from the early 17th century, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli is a vast treasure house of sculptures, frescoes, mosaics, and other artifacts from ancient times. Many are from Pompeii and Herculaneum; they were removed to the museum for purposes of safekeeping and preservation.

Choirmaster and actors, from Pompeii

Choirmaster and actors, from Pompeii

Fish mosaic

Fish mosaic

the Farnese Bull,from the second century BC

the Farnese Bull,from the second century BC

Click here for the harrowing tale depicted in this remarkable sculpture, thought to be the largest ever recovered from antiquity.

"Pseudo-Seneca," now thought to be a bust of Hesiod

"Pseudo-Seneca," now thought to be a bust of the Greek poet Hesiod

Seated Hermes

Seated Hermes

Farnese Hercules

Farnese Hercules


Okay, I know you want to see them…here are several examples of the art that resides in the famous (infamous?) “Gabinetto Segreto:


Erotic pair


Satyr and Nymph

Priapus fresco

Priapus fresco

There’s plenty more in that secret room, which used to be off limits to all but those with special permission to enter and view. I’m not about to tackle the subject of the sexual attitudes that characterized ancient Roman provinces, but I can recommend the chapter entitled “The Pleasures of the Body” from Mary Beard’s fascinating book:  beard


We spent the morning in that place of wonders and it wasn’t nearly long enough. This fact was especially brought home to me as I paged through the catalog. I thought we had seen quite a bit, but actually we saw just a small fraction of the museum’s vast holdings.

Here is the catalog:NAM of Naples The cover image is Flora, from Castellammare di Stabia, Villa of Varanus or Ariadne; it is described thus:

“The female figure seen tripping barefoot away from us, her veil and the hem of her dress fluttering in the breeze, has the heartaching allure of a fleeting apparition in a dream. As she moves she turns aside to pick with gesture full of elegance white flowers from a bush which she will then lay in her basket. We do not know whether she is human or divine, a nymph, Flora, or Proserpine. But then the painter himself, who took his inspiration from 4th century models and produced this masterpiece of grace and fantasy as a vignette on a III style wall, made no effort to characterise with extraneous attributes the identity of this young maiden, whom it seems only natural to view as the embodiment of Spring itself.


  1. Mibsy said,

    I have been reading all of your posts about your trip to Italy with great interest, I just have not taken the time to leave comments (bad blogging etiquette, I know!), but it was this post with the picture of Flora that reminded me of my history with this very picture and got me thinking about my own long-ago trip to Italy! I left a link to your blog at the end of my post, “My so-called life as a traveler” since you have far more edifying memories to share about your recent trip that I have of mine in 1970! 🙂

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Thanks, Mibsy. I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts about the trip. I myself hadn’t been to Italy since 1969. I remembered the country as a glorious, sun-drenched paradise. Well, guess what – It still is!

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