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Secrets of “The Last Day of Pompeii”: Which of the Contemporaries Karl Bryullov depicted four times in the picture

1939 years ago, on August 24, 79 AD, the most devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius occurred, as a result of which the cities of Herculaneum, Stabia and Pompeii were destroyed. This event has more than once become the plot of works of art, and the most famous of them is The Last Day of Pompeii by Karl Bryullov. However, few people know that in this picture the artist depicted not only himself, but also the woman with whom he was connected with a romantic relationship, in four images.

While working on this picture, the artist lived in Italy. In 1827, he fell into the excavations of Pompeii, in which his brother Alexander also participated. Obviously, then the idea was born of him to create a monumental picture on a historical theme. He wrote about his impressions: “The sight of these ruins involuntarily made me go back to the time when these walls were still inhabited … You cannot go through these ruins without feeling in yourself some completely new feeling that makes you forget everything, except for the terrible incident with this the city. “

The preparation process took Bryullov for several years – he studied the customs of ancient Italy, learned the details of the catastrophe from the letters of an eyewitness to the tragedy of Pliny the Younger to the Roman historian Tacitus, visited the excavations several times, exploring the ruined city, and made sketches at the Archaeological Museum of Naples. In addition, Pacini’s opera The Last Day of Pompeii was a source of inspiration for the artist, and he dressed his sitters in the costumes of participants in this performance.

Bryullov depicted some figures on his canvas in the same poses in which they found skeletons in petrified ashes at the site of the tragedy. The artist borrowed the image of a young man with his mother from Pliny, who described how an old woman asked her son to leave her and run away during the eruption of a volcano. However, not only historical details with documentary accuracy were captured in the picture, but also Bryullov’s contemporaries.

In one of the characters, Bryullov portrayed himself – this is an artist who is trying to save the most precious thing he has – a box with brushes and paints. He seemed to freeze for a minute, trying to remember the picture that unfolded in front of him. In addition, Bryullov in four images captured the features of his beloved, Countess Julia Samoilova: this is a girl who carries a vessel on her head, a mother hugging her daughters, a woman pressed to the baby’s chest, and a noble Pompeyka who fell from a broken chariot.

Countess Samoilova was one of the most beautiful and wealthy women of the beginning of the XIX century. Due to the scandalous reputation, she had to leave Russia and settle in Italy. There, she gathered all the color of society – composers, artists, diplomats, artists. For her villas, she often ordered sculptures and paintings, including from Karl Bryullov. He painted several portraits of her, which can be used to establish similarities with the images depicted in “The Last Day of Pompeii.” In all the paintings, one can feel his tender attitude towards Samoilova, as A. Benoit wrote: “Probably, thanks to his special attitude to the person portrayed, he managed to express so much fire and passion that when looking at them all the satanic charm of his model becomes immediately clear. .. “. Their romance intermittently lasted 16 years, and during this time Bryullov even managed to get married and divorce.

K. Bryullov. On the left is a portrait of Yu. Samoilova with a pupil Dzhovanina Pacini and an arapchonka, 1834. On the right is a portrait of Countess Yu. P. Samoilova retiring from a ball with a pupil Amacilia Pacini, 1839-1840
The artist tried to be as accurate as possible in the transfer of details, so even today you can establish the scene chosen by Bryullov – this is the Herculanean gate, behind which began “Tomb Street” – the burial place with magnificent tombs. “I took this whole scenery from nature, not backing away at all.

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