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Vesuvius in Eruption (1817) - J.M.W. Turner

Illustration from a paperback 'pulp' novel


Mount Vesuvius is a volcano east of Naples, Italy.

The volcano is currently active, even if no eruption is expected for the near future.--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Vesuvius [Aug 2004]

Vesuvius in Eruption

Vesuvius has always evoked terror. The only interlude in its intimidation lasted from 1500 until 1631. The volcano had been somnolent for almost five centuries, quiescent since 1500, and it was believed by many that its fires were extinct. Neapolitans descended daily by tortuous paths to the luxuriant green bottom of the crater. Woodmen worked the dense woods flourishing on the lava soil; wild boar roamed there; herdsmen tended animals grazing on succulent grass. The crater walls at the bottom of the abyss were pierced with caverns through which wind whistled eerily. Late in 1631 there were earthquakes in the vicinity and water in adjacent wells fell mysteriously. Around 1 December an early visitor to the summit found the woods gone and the chasm level to the brim with volcanic matter. He walked across from one side to the other apparently neither awed at the magnitude of the-event nor apprehensive of danger. A few nights later local peasants were alarmed by demons growling in the mountain whom they tried to placate with religious ceremonies. On the night of 15 December, a bright star appeared glinting above the volcano; later that evening a lightning flash struck the mountain while its summit glowed with a deep red. Then smoke billowed out of the mountain; its pastures ignited in flames; huge stones were hurled from the crater. In Naples on the morning of the sixteenth the populace saw an extraordinary cloud shaped like a gigantic pine tree hanging over Vesuvius.

Still no one understood the terror threatening them, until the abbot Braccini, who had made a long study of the volcano, went to his library and read them Pliny's first-hand account of the Vesuvian eruption of AD 79. `There,' said Braccini, as he shut the book, `there, in the words of sixteen centuries ago, is depicted what you see today.' Earthquake shocks came faster, concussions boomed ever more loudly, people choked on the sulphurous stenches; their fear was all the worse for having had no premonition of danger. Around noon the city was enveloped in darkness; the houses, according to Braccini, swayed like ships at sea; there was a roaring sound like the blast of many furnaces; tongues of lightning flashed continuously; the crashes became appalling; Naples went wild with terror. Its Cardinal Archbishop ordered the Sacrament to be celebrated throughout the city. A solemn procession was organised to venerate the city's patron saint, but when the priests went to his relics, his blood was found to be liquefied and bubbling. The suffocation of Naples was, however, supposedly halted by the miraculous intervention of San Gennaro at the moment when his relics were being carried out to the cathedral square. The authorities sent drummers round the city beseeching the people to forsake the pollution of gross pleasures and selfish vices. Next day the sea receded for nearly half a mile from the coast, and then swept back in a huge wave to a point high above its usual level. Seven tongues of lava poured down the mountainside at terrible speed, destroying villages, killing thousands of people (one wiping out a religious procession). The lava flow soon reached the sea, which for days resembled a boiling cauldron.

[N]aples and its surrounding vistas enriched the English visual imagination in the late seventeenth century and gave a new gothic aesthetic to the English-speaking world. The antecedent imagination in this process is that of a proud, scornful Neapolitan painter called Salvator Rosa (1615-73). After Rosa's death his creative ideas were intellectualised by an artistic, invalid English nobleman, Anthony Ashley Cooper, third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713). Shaftesbury's ideas were popularised by the poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744), who disseminated a new sense of the visual and the picturesque; Pope's version of Shaftesbury's doctrines and Rosa's images were then given solid form by the architect and landscape artist William Kent (1686-1748). This process would have been impossible without the new taste for Continental travel that developed among the English of the seventeenth century and without the new fortunes that enabled them to collect works of art. --from the first chapter of Gothic: Four Hundred Years of Excess, Horror, Evil and Ruin (1999) - Richard Davenport[Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK] via http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/books/chap1/gothic.htm [Jun 2005]

inspired by the sublime

Discovery of remains of Herculaneum and Pompeii

Of the buried cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii no traces were discovered till the year 1713, when some labourers, in digging a well, came upon the remains of Herculaneum about 8 m (24 ft) underground. Little attention, however, was paid to the discovery at that time; but in 1748 a peasant, digging in his vineyard, stumbled on some ancient works of art. On sinking a shaft at this spot to the depth of 4 m (12 ft), the remains of Pompeii were found. This discovery led to further researches, and the exact positions of the two cities were erelong ascertained. The work of disinterment has continued with little interruption from that to the present time. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Vesuvius#Discovery_of_remains_of_Herculaneum_and_Pompeii [Aug 2004]

Sexually Explicit Wall Murals

79 AD, Aug 24: Vesuvius erupts, thereby preserving the homoerotic, and other sexually explicit, wall murals that would surely have been destroyed by later Christian "civilizations".

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