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Modern Art in the Ancient World

The timeless sculptures of Igor Mitoraj are at home in the ruins of Pompeii.

Igor Mitoraj, the Franco-Polish artist who was born in Nazi Germany and died at 70 in 2014, had a dream. He wanted to show his sculptures against the extraordinary and incomparable frame of the ruins of Pompeii.

Although he didn’t live to see and savor it, his wish was granted in May last year with the unveiling of Mitoraj in Pompeii, an exhibition of thirty of his sculptures on view until January 2017.

The Ancient Roman city of Pompeii was destroyed in 79 B.C. when nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying the city in a cloud of deadly volcanic ash within a few hours. It remained untouched until it was rediscovered in 1599 and excavated in the mid 1700s. Today, Pompeii, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, seen by approximately 2.5 million visitors every year.

Mitoraj was right to consider Pompeii the ideal site for his work. There is a harmonious balance between the once buried city and his busts, torsos, and figures, which are both modern and classical.

The juxtaposition of monumental sculptures with the natural beauty of Vesuvius can overwhelm visitors. The aesthetic and emotional impact is laid bare amid the ruins. The mythological characters depicted in Mitoraj’s pieces stand out as immense, dreamlike creatures — appearing amid the crumbling temples and homes, establishing an unexpected yet undeniable connection between ancient history and contemporary art.

Photos by Roberto Salomone.

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