Montana State University will host a one-day symposium on Friday, Sept. 30, at the MSU SUB Ballrooms celebrating the Oplontis exhibition now on display at the Museum of the Rockies. Members of the international team of scholars who excavated and have studied the ancient Roman seaside villa, the bustling wine import-export business adjacent to it, as well as the priceless antiquities once buried by the eruption of Vesuvius, as well as life in the Bay of Naples nearly 2,000 years ago, will speak at the symposium, which runs from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
“Genius Loci: An International Symposium on the Oplontis Project and Exhibit” will feature lectures by five of the Italian and American scholars who have worked on the Oplontis Project, led by John R. Clarke, co-director of the project and an international authority on the collection.
Villa Oplontis was one of the many great seaside villas on the Bay of Naples that was buried for centuries in the ashes of Mount Vesuvius, which erupted in 79 A.D. In 1964, the Italian Ministry of Culture began efforts to uncover and restore the luxury villa. In 2005, Clarke, an art historian and expert on Roman antiquities based at the University of Texas, approached Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei, about resuming the scholarly work begun by the Italians and expanding it to include the publication of all aspects of the Villa. He invited Regina Gee, then his graduate student and now a professor of art history at MSU, to participate in the project as the Roman wall painting/fresco specialist.
In the passing years Gee earned her doctorate in art history from the University of Texas and has become an expert in ancient Roman frescoes. She has been involved in the Oplontis project since 2007. Her connection to the project is the reason the exhibit of more than 140 artifacts curated from the Villa Oplontis are on display at the Museum of the Rockies until Dec. 31. MSU is one of just three locations in the U.S., and the only one west of the Mississippi, to be visited by “Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii.”
Gee explained that the title of the Sept. 30 symposium, “Genius Loci,” is a phrase that the ancient Romans used to describe a spirit that “had the care of a particular place.”
“The scholars who will speak at the symposium are part of a decade-long international collaborative study to preserve and publish the material record of this extraordinary joint site, and so keeping it alive for future generations of scholars,” Gee said. “In doing so, their interdisciplinary, contextual studies illuminate how the physical setting influenced the culture and economics of this playground for Rome’s rich and famous on the Bay of Naples.”
Michael Thomas, director of the Center for the Study of Ancient Italy, The University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the Oplontis Project as well as an expert on ancient wines, will speak at 3:10 p.m. about “A Tale of Two “Villas”: Luxury, Wine, and Water and the Last Years of Oplontis.”
Other symposium speakers include:
Elaine Gazda, professor of classical art and archaeology and curator of the Hellenistic and Roman Collections, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan, will speak about "Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Making of an Exhibition" at 10 a.m.
Timothy Liddell, an architect with Liddell Projects and a graduate student in product design for Innovation, Politecnico di Milano, will speak at 11 a.m. about “Bricks to Bits and Back Again: the modern incarnations of an ancient Roman villa.”
Giovanni Di Maio, geoarchaeologist for the Archaeological Superintendency of Pompeii in Scafati, Italy, will lecture at 1:10 p.m. about “A.D. 79: Pompeii, Oplontis, Positano: In Search of Lost Landscapes.”
Ivo van der Graaff, assistant professor of art history at the University of New Hampshire and field director of the Oplontis Project, will speak at 2:10 p.m. about "Reaching Before the Eruption: New Excavations at Oplontis."
Regina Gee (406) 994-2665, email@example.com