Abstract: Excavation Photographs and the Rediscovery of the Via dell’Abbondanza at Pompeii


When Vittorio Spinazzola began the so-called “Nuovi Scavi” at Pompeii in 1911, he envisioned a revolutionary excavation strategy.  He proposed to dig about a half-kilometer of only one street – the Via dell’Abbondanza – and to expose little more than its street-facing architecture.  He also ensured that his excavation would be documented to a previously-unparalleled extent by the still developing technology of photography.  Spinazzola was driven by the belief that the paintings, graffiti, facades, and balconies that lined this street would provide a vivid image of life in this ancient town.  Despite the provocative evidence Spinazzola’s project unearthed, the photographs render the Via dell’Abbondanza as an empty space, thus depopulating what was once a bustling space and contributing to a lack of scholarly attention in the intervening years.

This lecture consists of two parts.  The first considers what the visually stunning excavation photographs reveal about the self-presentation of an excavator and his work during this period.  How did an excavator’s role grow and change hand-in-hand with the new technology of representing archaeological process and product?  Moreover, what has been the legacy of these images in terms of what has, or has not, come to be studied at Pompeii?

The second part of the presentation looks more closely at the remains uncovered by Spinazzola’s excavations, and precisely at the compelling picture revealed about life at one specific intersection along the Via dell’Abbondanza.  What emerges from the architecture, paintings, and inscriptions are five overlapping stories about this corner’s denizens, who range from neighborhood officials and foreign barmaids to cloth vendors and a city magistrate.  We watch them boast, parade, chide, celebrate, and disparage one another in this close-range view of urban life along a street.

Dig Deeper

Email the AIA Facebook Instagram YouTube Twitter
Subscribe to the AIA e-Update

Sign Up!