Can a Newly Discovered Fresco of a Very Risqué Myth Help Pompeii Change Its Image? Leda and the Swan Goes on View

The recently discovered erotic scene is the latest addition to a world-famous archaeological park that has struggled over the years.

A fresco of Leda and the Swan found in an ancient Pompeii bedroom. Photo by Filippo Monteforte / AFP via Getty Images.
A fresco of Leda and the Swan found in an ancient Pompeii bedroom. Photo by Filippo Monteforte / AFP via Getty Images.

One year ago, archaeologists at the Pompeii Archaeological Park announced they had excavated a remarkably intact wall-painting in the bedroom of a home buried under ash when Mount Vesuvius famously exploded in 79 AD. That fresco, an erotic scene depicting the ancient Greek myth of Leda and the Swan—in which Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces Leda—has been unveiled this week in the domus (or upper-class townhouse) where it was found.

Pompeii is one of Italy’s biggest tourist attractions and an archaeological marvel. Excavations have found that first-century Pompeii was a metropolitan place, complete with fast-food-style counter restaurants, imported goods, and a panoply of languages spoken. 

A curator at the Pompeii Archaeological Park discusses the Leda and the Swan fresco uncovered in November 2018 in the Regio V dig site at Pompeii. Photo by Filippo Monteforte / AFP via Getty Images.

A curator at the Pompeii Archaeological Park discusses the Leda and the Swan fresco uncovered in November 2018 in the Regio V dig site at Pompeii. Photo by Filippo Monteforte / AFP via Getty Images.

The dig at the Regio V site, a 54-acre area in the northern part of the park, is the biggest excavation at Pompeii since the 1960s. The dig got underway last year, and there are expected to be several more exciting unveilings as it progresses. It has not yet been announced exactly when the site will be open to the public. The Great Pompeii Project, which is the official name of the dig at Regio V, is funded by the European Union and the Italian Government, who have earmarked over 100 million euros for the project, which was initially slated to be completed in 2017.

Pompeii had fallen into disarray in the past. Major earthquakes halted early excavations in the 19th century. World War II, as well as shoddy restoration work by mafia-controlled building companies, destroyed many important buildings through the 20th century. By 2010, only 10 sites remained open to the public (compared with the 64 that were open in 1956), and many of those were dangerously in shambles, with wild dogs roaming the streets.

The unveiling of the Leda and the Swan fresco is perhaps a turning point for Pompeii, which hopes to revamp its image. Several discoveries have been made at Regio V, including an inscription dated in October (the volcano was previously thought to have erupted on August 24th), as well as the skeletal remains of two women and three children, and those of a horse. Another fresco—depicting two gladiators at battle—was found at the site last year, in the stairwell of what archaeologists speculate was a brothel-tavern for gladiators.


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