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Pompeii in the Public Imagination from its Rediscovery to Today$
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Shelley Hales and Joanna Paul

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199569366

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199569366.001.0001

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Making History

Making History

Pliny's Letters to Tacitus and Angelica Kauffmann's Pliny the Younger and his Mother at Misenum

(p.48) 4 Making History
Pompeii in the Public Imagination from its Rediscovery to Today

Victoria C. Gardner Coates

Oxford University Press

A first-hand account of Vesuvius' eruption in 79 CE has survived in the form of two letters by Pliny the Younger, who witnessed the event from his uncle's villa at Misenum. Pliny's physical presence on the Bay of Naples in late August of 79 CE has lent his letters a canonical authority, and they have functioned in the modern era as a sort of window through which to witness the eruption. This chapter proposes that, rather than being the last word in describing the eruption, Pliny stands as the first in a long and distinguished tradition of re-creating it in the service of formal history — a tradition that 1,700 years later inspired one of the quintessential history painters of the era, the Swiss Angelica Kauffmann, to compose the Pliny the Younger and his Mother at Misenum, now at Princeton. It is argued that the letters and painting in question are unified by more than the standard relationship between an ancient text and a modern image. Both Pliny and Kauffmann had a vested interest in making history, which was something of a leap for this particular author and artist.

Keywords:   Vesuvius, volcanic eruption, Pliny the Younger, letters, formal history, Swiss painters, Angelica Kauffmann, painting

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