Skip to content

An eruption of beauty at the Drents Museum

'See Naples and then die' were Goethe's famous words. If the German philosopher was as surrounded by beauty as I was during the new exhibition Dying in beauty - The world of Pompeii and Herculaneum, then I can understand his statement. For the Drents Museum, it is a peculiar choice: an exhibition on an already much-discussed period and society. Normally, the museum focuses on more unfamiliar countries and cultures. Still, I am glad they are taking a different path for this time, because Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius have always fascinated me. By Dying in beauty I feel even more urge to visit Pompeii and Naples. But then I prefer not to follow Goethe's advice.

Captivated by beauty

Some periods of history capture the imagination more than others. It is a personal preference. So is the concept of 'beauty'. However, according to curator Bastiaan Steffens, the thinkers of the Roman Empire were convinced of an 'objective beauty'; an absolute beauty that exists outside the everyday world. Beautiful works of art were the way to get as close to this as possible. Beauty was good for people.

If you look at the exhibition, you will understand the thinking behind it. It was the Roman Empire at its height. According to Steffens, the beauty ideal of the time was linked to the divine and thus practically unattainable. For both the (well-to-do) woman and man. As the curator looked out the window of his Groningen home, he thought of what it must have been like for the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum to live amid all that beauty. A different angle; usually Pompeii and the eruption of Vesuvius are linked to drama and suffering.

More than archaeology

Archaeology can also be art. The exhibition makes that abundantly clear. Archaeological exhibitions can sometimes seem a bit clinical, but the diversity and splendour of the objects make everything a feast for the eyes. For art lovers and those with an interest in artefacts alike. Besides a couple of beautiful marble theatre masks, there are several frescoes that are my favourite. Somewhat unfortunate is that a dramatic fresco about the theatre does not get the attention it deserves. It lies flat behind reflective glass. Apart from that, it is fascinating to see how well some objects have been preserved; like a (t)house altar petrified in coal and almost baked bread.

Modern plus antique is dynamism

You can walk through a lush Roman garden where you will be surrounded by mosaics, statues and frescoes; the theme Crafted beauty shows the world of the well-to-do Roman. Public splendour By contrast, it shows what the other inhabitants were surrounded by: art in bathhouses, theatres and temples. All equally impressive.

Good use was made of light in designing the exhibition. Several beautiful images are colourfully lit. It does not distract but adds dynamism. The Romans would be proud. A red aura hugs a cast of a body captured by the eruption; how dramatic do you want it?

The beautiful sculpture of the mythological scene in which a hunter (Actaeon) is turned into a deer by the goddess Diana and then torn apart by his own dogs is also rightly set in a violet glow. The combination of light and glass creates beautiful coloured reflections of works of art. This adds an extra dimension to the already breathtaking art.

The effect and idea of beauty

What this exhibition teaches about beauty is that our idea of beauty is based more than we realise on what we found of it in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Appreciate this article!

If you appreciate this article and want to show your appreciation with a small contribution: you can! This is how you help keep independent journalism alive. Show your appreciation with a small donation!


Why donate?

We are convinced that good investigative journalism and expert background information are essential for a healthy cultural sector. There is not always space and time for that. Culture Press does want to provide that space and time, and keep it accessible to everyone for FREE! Whether you are rich, or poor. Thanks to donations From readers like you, we can continue to exist. This is how Culture Press has existed since 2009!

You can also become a member, then turn your one-off donation into lasting support!


Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

Private Membership (month)
5 / Maand
For natural persons and self-employed persons.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Own mastodon account
Access to our archives
Small Membership (month)
18 / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of less than €250,000 per year
No annoying banners
A premium newsletter
All our podcasts
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Posting press releases yourself
Extra attention in news coverage
Large Membership (month)
36 / Maand
For cultural institutions with a turnover/subsidy of more than €250,000 per year.
No annoying banners
A special newsletter
Your own Mastodon account
Access to archives
Share press releases with our audience
Extra attention in news coverage
Premium Newsletter (substack)
5 trial subscriptions
All our podcasts

Payments are made via iDeal, Paypal, Credit Card, Bancontact or Direct Debit. If you prefer to pay manually, based on an invoice in advance, we charge a 10€ administration fee

*Only for annual membership or after 12 monthly payments

en_GBEnglish (UK)