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© Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters, a project by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, 2020. Project Partner: MiC.
All archival images and photographs taken at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii are used with permission from MiC-Ministry of Culture-Archaeological Park of Pompeii. Any copies or reproductions are strictly forbidden.

Elena Mazzi. The School of Pompeii

Commitments 04    14•01•2021

Elena Mazzi
The School of Pompeii, 2019
5 photographs, 5 texts (original version, 2019)
25 photographs, 5 texts (version for Pompeii Commitment, 2021)
Produced within the Creative Europe project, curated by the Department of Architecture of the Federico II University, Naples (DiARC) in partnership with BOZAR-Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels and Fundació Mies van der Rohe, Barcelona
Courtesy the Artist
Photo Daniele Alef Grillo, Elena Mazzi

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a plan to establish an internal Advanced Training School in Pompeii, which, given the imminent retirement of the existing staff, would provide and guarantee the continuity of their work and the safeguarding of their methods. The project was designed in the image of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence; however, it was never completed and the restoration, study and analysis of archaeological materials from Pompeii was later entrusted to external providers, with few exceptions. One of these was the laboratory of Casina Fiorelli which, from the outset, has worked in collaboration with other international research centers focusing on different disciplines, and used experimental approaches and techniques in the restoration of artifacts and the analysis of organic finds. In this way, these workers provided continuity for the intuition and innovations of Giuseppe Fiorelli, the nineteenth-century Superintendent who lived in the Casina and opened the building that was both his home and the headquarters of the Park to numerous archaeologists and visitors. Starting from research and analysis conducted at the Laboratory, the artist succeeded in recapturing the work of some of the professionals whose expertise and day-to-day efforts over the decades have continued to safeguard, restore and convey the most vivid aspects of Pompeiian society. The subject of their research was the actual daily life of the city, with all the activities, tastes and customs that define it and, in many ways, make it not dissimilar to our own. This “School of Pompeii” which, in institutional and historical terms, never came into being, essentially corresponded to their story, told in the project that followed, The School of Pompeii, a new digital version of which is presented here, having won the 2019 call Artists in Architecture-Re-activating Modern European Houses (headed by the Palais des Beaux Arts-BOZAR, Brussels, in partnership with DiARC — Faculty of Architecture of the University of Naples Federico II and the Fundació Mies van der Rohe in Barcelona). The project consists of five of these stories, part real and part fiction, which draw on a range of sources, both close and distant in time: scientific data and analysis, publications, administrative documents, private correspondence and oral testimony, combined with personal impressions by the artist. Each story is accompanied by a photographic tableau vivant which includes, in some cases, historical figures whom Mazzi was able to involve directly: Enrico Gabbiano, “the mosaicist remembered by all his colleagues”, Maria Oliva, illustrator and author of nine excavation journals regarding the House of Julius Polybius, Annamaria Ciarallo, who died in 2013 but is recalled by her friend and colleague Claudio Salerno, and two laboratory specialists who were still employed at the time, Luigi Buffone and Antonio Stampone. Alongside these, the final image is of the dog, a present-day emblem of ancient Pompeii, in its multiple role of companion, guard and hunter; after all, as the artist writes, the dog still remains “the faithful guardian of the city, and until the 1980s it also accompanied the guards through their long night shifts, during which they watched over the vast archaeological site, unarmed”. In this sense, The School of Pompeii is a research project without an overarching framework; it aims to explore alternative ways of understanding reality through the recovery of stories and people who are forgotten but who, when newly included in the definition of what Pompeii is, give an idea of a city still working and, therefore, still living. AV

Home Page Image: Elena Mazzi, Study for “The School of Pompeii”, 2019. Photo Elena Mazzi. Courtesy the Artist

Elena Mazzi (Reggio Emilia, 1984) lives and works in Turin. In her works, based on research and presented as relational and procedural programs, she explores the relationship between human beings and their environments in order to experiment with collective and participatory forms of experience, identify what distinguishes the ordinary from the exceptional, identify dynamics of censorship and margination, activate educational and engagement processes in marginal or limited groups, analyze critical situations and conditions of risk — be it political, social, economic, cultural or environmental – support the development of identifying values, both individual and collective, on the basis of traditions and customs and, in parallel, scenarios for their potential change or displacement. The main tool employed by the artist appears to be not art — at least as it is understood in professional terms — but rather an anthropological and ethnographical, even biographical, practice, which is made explicit in the act of interpretation and can be placed midway between the study of documentary evidence and narrative invention. Organizations and institutions with which Mazzi has collaborated on solo and group exhibitions, research projects and residencies include Botín Foundation, Santander; Botkyrka Konsthall, Stockholm; Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Rivoli-Turin; Luigi Pecci Center for Contemporary Art, Prato; COP17, Durban; Fondation Thalie, Brussels; Bevilacqua La Masa Foundation, Venice; Fondazione Ermanno Casoli, Fabriano; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; Fondazione Spinola Banna, Banna; Future Farmers A.I.R., San Francisco; GAM, Turin; GAMeC, Bergamo; GuilmiArtProject, Guilmi; MAMbo, Bologna; HIAP, Helsinki; Art Sonje Center, Seoul; Whitechapel Gallery, London; ZK/U Center for Art and Urbanistics, Berlin. She also participated in the 16th Quadriennale in Rome, the 14th Istanbul Biennale, the 17th BJCEM Mediterranean Biennale and the 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture (Fittja Pavilion).

Work Methodologies

  14 • 01 • 2021

The Casina Fiorelli laboratory and experimental techniques in the field of restoration and analysis


Giuseppe Fiorelli, Publications, 1860-1864, 1897


At the School of Pompeii

Anna Onesti


The Mosaic of Casina Fiorelli (House of Plaster Corpses)

Pompeii Commitment

Elena Mazzi. The School of Pompeii

Commitments 04 14•01•2021

That last light fell in the silence when we met. Ancient, radiant sunset.
Lived lives, tragedies, mysteries, past myths, translated moments. There was nobody. You said: “Feel how real everything is!” We walked at dusk, along the road with large round and white stones. A dog preceded us on the path.
The tail seemed to sweep away the white dust. The ruins, mute spectators, paraded to the sides like welcoming servants. We reached the beloved domus.
You talked about research and the Laboratory. How much charm in those words!
Applied Research as a supreme good; interdisciplinary studies the solemn game of diversity.
You were authoritative but sensitive to flowers.
I said to you: “Beauty is a compendium of knowledge”.
I imagined the warp and weft of the ancient fabrics, the pollens of the plants flying away, the pigments of the paintings that adorn the walls, the essences that perfume the balsam containers, the lawn that colors the gardens.
DNA strands that create poems. Different outlooks and different disciplines. Polybius a large laboratory, a precursor of modern experimental archeology.
The end of isolation.
A different, extraordinary knowledge was outlined and drawn, and it illuminated past lives. Now, indeed, immortal, thanks to science.
A changed sensitivity had finally arrived. No longer presupposing but affirming.
The role of differences was able to interpret new needs. The search for truth placed disciplines close to each other, bringing out a common thread of a single, great, common, profound sense. We entered the lobby.
The dark space. Mysterious perception. Expected dialogue. Meeting prelude. Absence presence.
I talked about my work.
“The contemporary has an ancient heart. It requires an archeology of the present. Culture is a militant action”.
You smiled.
The peristyle appeared before us. Casts of wardrobes, doors, plants. Archaic signs. You said: “We observe the nature of all things: the explosive impact on the environment, bioclimatic behavior, human remains, ancient DNA, zoo-archaeological aspects, the garden, lime, mortars, white marbles and the coloured stones, the water, the glass finds, the wooden artefacts, the textile finds, the substances in the balsam containers, the organic residues in the oil lamps and in the found objects”.
I thought, “Everyone here is under investigation!”
What was secondary in the past had become essential.
The domus was now a synthesis of new knowledge, new experimentation, new method of investigation.
I told you: “Tell it to the world, Annamaria!” Years later, you made “Homo Faber”.
Science was part of the dream.
We sat down.
The garden showed up.
It seemed to be expecting us.
Its reconstruction was a true work. The conceptual and the philological embraced each other.
We came to the HH environment: place
of crying and meaning. Suspended black space. The other sun. Silence.
I asked you, “Were they here?”
“Yes, an entire family. The girl wore two gold bracelets. She died in the last month of pregnancy”.
Absence presence.
I told you: “Each meeting is an opportunity for a contemporary idea. A synthesis between classical knowledge and emotional encounter. The first is formal, scientific, rigorous; the second, emotional, creative, spiritual. New identity journey”.
We went out.
You looked at me and said:
“A path not yet marked. A different space of expression”.
Then came the time when we narrated the myth, the story, the gods of the domus of the freedman Polybius and of the young girl.
A great installation.
A new model of cultural fruition. A different intuition.
Science, art and technology opened a gap on the archeology of the present.
A new spirit. A new path to things that will be understood later.
I greeted you with great gratitude, eager to participate in that becoming that was before us.
Today I understand.
There are women who, in silence, gently, transform misunderstandings, pains and sufferings, into a source of light for others, as a guide to the ancient signs. Because everything changes.
As well as the flower that yields its fertile pollen to the wind.
The domus, for me, a melancholic story of great women.
You, golden figure, magic. A warning for all. Our lives are light transits in the fleeting time. The eyes are full of tears.
Absences presences.

Claudio Salerno to Annamaria Ciarallo and the young woman with the golden bracelet

With 2 units we continue to dig into the room (EE) in a layer of ash mixed with some lapillus.
At −5.10 m from the ground level, at 240 m from the South wall and at 2.00 m from the West wall, the head of a bronze statue bearing a diadem emerges.
We continue to dig around to bring it completely to light. The shoulders can be seen, with strands of softly styled hair (thus it would seem to be an Efebo), the arms supporting two stirrups hold lamps adorned with shoots and flowers.
We now see the pelvis, the legs (the right leg is the load-bearing one and the left stretches out forward), the feet resting on a circular base also of bronze, h. 0.07 m, diam. 0.30 m.
Everything rests on the floor which is of cocciopesto and is located at −6.40 m from the ground level. As the statue is brought to light, other bronze objects emerge, mainly towards the Southwest corner.
These are large hinges certainly belonging to the door of the Southern compartment (there are 6 in total) cut laterally (inv. n. 2263 and 2268); Frag. iron lock; 1 bronze stud with ring handle (inv. 2269).
A candlestick begins to come to light.
On the right arm of the statue we find a bronze candelabrum, which fell from the South-west area. In the fall the upper end broke. Its complete height is 1.22 m.
The stem is a knotty branch, resting on three feet intertwined with 3 leaves.
We continue to dig in the South-west area of the environment to bring to light the other candlestick of which only the upper part emerges and also because we hope to find the lamp that rested on it.
We thus arrive, with the layer of ash mixed with a small lapillus layer, at an altitude of −5.98 m from the ground level.
The remaining layer of lapillus with which one reaches the floor therefore measures 52 cm. Hence it is easier to remove this material and in fact in a short time other bronze objects begin to emerge.
So we clean the whole South-west corner and to our eyes appears not only the lamp we expected to find, but a real treasure.

March 8th, 1978

Elements and ingredients:

2 original charred loaves of 79 A.D.
2 laboratory technicians
2 work gowns
1 millstone
1 oven

The recipe for Pompeii bread was simple: water, soft wheat flour and sourdough. What we still couldn’t understand is how they managed to get the typical shape divided into 8 segments, but above all why. These and other questions are being answered by Farrell Monaco, a Canadian archaeologist expert in food archeology: her research focuses on food, preparation techniques and ceramics related to food in the Roman Mediterranean. Farrell, in addition to collecting and cross-checking material or statistical data, also focuses on the sensory aspects of the food technique. She actually eats and cooks the things she studies. Following the recipe derived from ancient texts, frescoes and archaeological research, she reproduced the Pompeian bread with the aim of the preparation process, the proportions of the ingredients, the characteristics of the piece of bread during the dough, the cooking and the taste. Antonio and Luigi accompany the archaeologist in her research, following it with fervor and interest, and recalling the years in which the laboratory concentrated on olfactory paths determined by the study of the plants of Pompeii. They smile at the memory of the findings of a tarallo, which ended up on display at the Naples archaeological museum, rather than in the Pompeii laboratory. It would have been nice to put it alongside the bread, create a culinary composition with a domestic atmosphere, and expose it to the public. When they asked to get it, the answer they received was: “The tarallo no!”.

In those years, I loved difficult challenges.
In those years, I no longer felt pain.
In those years, I was foolish and wanted to stay foolish.
In those years, I had 15 to 20 workers working with me.
In those years, I felt honored to do that job.
In those years, the passion was such that I loved every mosaic as if it was a female creature, to the point of calling it by a female noun.
In those years, I didn’t think of anything else but to better rebuild those wonders.
In those years I could propose to the director what was better to restore.

Today, I remember those years.

“The Pompeian world is not represented only by surviving monuments and tragic human stories of the people who lived and died there in the historic eruption of 79 A.D., but also by the animals who participated in its daily life and also fell victims to a tragic death.
Among them in first place is the dog, whose loyal profession was evident, as guardians of the house and vital contributor in the hunt for food, as proven by the extensive evidence left behind in its ruins.” Amedeo Maiuri

In Pompeii, some dogs spent their days at home, without performing any specific duties and only sharing moments of intimacy with their owners. In everyday life, the watchdog was a family member and had an emotional attachment to their owners, children and household slaves; since they spent most of their time as guardians of the house, they inevitably also became family pets.
However, it would be inappropriate to make a distinction between watchdogs, hunting dogs and companion dogs since their roles could be interchangeable.
For their part, Pompeians loved their dogs, hosting them in their home, and lovingly taking care of their daily needs. Not even in the previous century did the dog abandon Pompeii. His role as a pet and guard continued to persist alongside the keepers, who until the 1980s used them as faithful workmates in the long nights of surveillance of the city.
The unarmed custodians kept watching over the silent city day and night, making sure that thieves and criminals did not wander in search of loot and treasure, and did not offend the immense historical and cultural heritage of the site.