Montana State University

Gee and stories of Oplontis highlight next MSU Provost Lecture Oct. 18

October 7, 2016 -- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

Montana State University art history professor Regina Gee stands in a recreation of a triclinium, or dining room, at the Villa Optontis exhibit curated by Gee at the Museum of the Rockies. Gee will tell the stories of ancient Romans revealed by excavation of the Oplontis villas near Naples at the next MSU Provost Distinguished Lecture set Oct. 18 at the museum. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham

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Regina Gee describes her immediate pull to art history while she was an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University as something akin to a schoolgirl crush.

“I thought I was a Renaissance girl,” she said. “Until I was introduced to the classics. Then, it was an immediate love affair.”

Her passion for the field has only intensified while Gee, who has been a professor of art history at Montana State University’s School of Art in the College of Arts and Architecture since 2005, has become an international authority on one aspect of classical  art history – ancient Roman frescoes. She developed that specialty while a key member of the Oplontis Project, a multi-disciplinary scholarly team that includes art historians, archaeologists, architects and scientists who received permission from the Italian government to uncover and study two opulent Roman villas on the Bay of Naples that were buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

Gee will speak about the Oplontis Project, her work at the villas, and her passion for classical art at “Reimagining Oplontis: The life, death and afterlife of an ancient Roman villa on the Bay of Naples,” the topic for the next MSU Provost's Distinguished Lecture set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the Hager Auditorium of the Museum of the Rockies. The event is free and open to the public.

As adept as Gee is at pinpointing when ancient frescoes were painted, as well as when they were repaired,  she is also a master at connecting to the voices from the past with story, as anyone who has heard her speak about the Oplontis Project can attest.

“I see stories everywhere,” said Gee, who is able to entertain students and visitors to the exhibit with gripping and seamless narratives of what life was like at the opulent villas more than 2,100 years ago. At the Oct. 18 lecture she will speak, among other topics, of the history of both Oplontis Villa A and Villa B pre-eruption, and the story of their modern retrieval and preservation.

Gee’s own story began in her native New Orleans, where she was always attracted to the Crescent City’s rich history and landmarks. Her studies at Vanderbilt initially prepared her to study Renaissance painters. When she switched to Greek and then Roman art, she had to supplant French with Greek and Latin so that she could study original texts, such as original letters written by Cicero about a dinner party for Julius Caesar.

Her work took her to the University of Texas. While earning her doctorate there in Roman art and architecture, she became a graduate student for John R. Clarke, co-director of the Oplontis Project and an international authority on the collection. While the Italian Ministry of Culture began efforts in 1964 to uncover and restore the luxury villa, the Oplontis Project began in 2005 when Clarke 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. Gee joined the project in 2007 as the Roman wall painting/fresco specialist.

Since then, Gee has published extensively on the topic and presents papers annually on her research, most recently at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles.

As proud as she is of many aspects of the show, which will return to Italy after the exhibit at Smith College, she is particularly proud of the interdisciplinary work done on the exhibit by MSU faculty, staff and, particularly, students. Several elements of the exhibit built and painted by MSU students were requested by the curator for the show in Smith College, who was not aware it was student work, she said.

“I want people to know the role that MSU has had,” she said. “It’s really quite wonderful.”

The Provost's Distinguished Lecturer Series recognizes outstanding MSU faculty for their scholarship and leadership. Four more professors after Gee will give lectures this academic year. The next lecture will be Tuesday, Jan. 24 by Beth Burroughs, professor of mathematics.

Organizers say because Hager Auditorium seating is limited, those interested in attending are advised to arrive early in order to get a seat.


Regina Gee (406) 994-2665,

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