The Royal Ontario Museum’s Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano looks and sounds every bit like a ROM big-ticket exhibition. That’s because it is. The presentation and quality that have been trademarks for the museum for years are all there.
In its grand story-telling, it follows a logical enough progression. It starts with the ‘what, where, when, why, and how’ of Mount Vesuvius itself…
…then profiles some notable Pompeii-ans(?)…
…then talks about city life…
….and finally, almost coming full circle, deals with the human toll of the eruption.
There’s nothing redefining about Pompeii as a blockbuster, and there didn’t need to be. There are a lot of artefacts, which exist primarily as static displays, and interpretive paneling and quotes on the wall.
The text was at a good reading level and there wasn’t too much of it. I like to be told about the things I’m looking at, but I also get bored very easy with large sections of writing. I didn’t need to do a lot of skimming or ignoring with Pompeii.
If I could change anything, though, I wanted more of the ‘We don’t know for sure…’ or ‘This is what we think this is or happened…’ element to the interpretation. There are issues in trying to piece together ancient cultures – sources are scarce and unreliable, as an example – and, maybe I’m wrong on this, but I get the impression that Pompeii is very much figured out. Perhaps, though, because everything was preserved under magma, there is that clearer picture.
There are sprinkles of audience involvement, particularly in the toga tying station, the gladiator station, the mosaic making station, and stereoscope viewer. I enjoyed the viewer especially for how basic it is. It shows flash and gimmicks don’t always rule the day. Pompeii also encourages sharing on social media, as highlighted by the clever hashtag #ROMpeii.
Moving through the exhibit, there is a bit of crowding near the start, but once I got out of the gladiator section and into the city section, things were more free-flowing.
Roman history, even though I have studied it, generally doesn’t intrigue me as much as other topics, but I could nonetheless find a lot of value in The ROM’s Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano as a great museological experience. All in all, the look and feel and effort make it a worth-while endeavour.