Vision Series Lecturer Curated Major National Gallery Exhibit

Posted: January 22, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Carol Mattusch
Carol Mattusch
Photo by Evan Cantwell

When Laura Bush invited Michelle Obama to the White House right after the election, many people saw the photo of the two women in the Washington Post the next day.

When Carol Mattusch looked at the paper that day, she saw her new book sitting on a table between them.

The photo was taken just a few days after Mattusch, Mason’s Mathy Professor of Art History, gave the first lady a private tour of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) exhibit she guest curated, “Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples.” Over the last few months, Mattusch has given a number of such tours.

The show features classical antiquities from museums in and around Naples, and the exhibition space is laid out as rooms in a Roman villa, inviting the viewer to a more intimate perspective of ancient life in a seaside villa.

On Monday, Jan. 26, Mattusch will share her experiences and expertise as part of the university’s Vision Series. Her lecture, “Pompeii, Naples, Mt. Vesuvius and the Grand Tour,” begins at 7 p.m. in the Center for the Arts Concert Hall on the Fairfax Campus.

Mattusch has been working on the exhibit for the past several years. As the show doesn’t feature the work of one particular artist or type of art, it was complicated to organize.

Fortunately Mattusch had the vision, experience and international connections to pull off such a large-scale endeavor. Still, that didn’t make it easy.

Naturally, travel was involved, as well as many negotiations.

“There were several rounds of choosing objects for the show,” says Mattusch. “I would tell the museums what I wanted, then they would tell me what we could have.”

Negotiations went round and round, involving lawyers, accountants and insurance representatives, not to mention the NGA director. Mattusch speaks highly of her colleagues in Naples and at the NGA, and of the cooperation and support she received to make her vision a reality.

“We really wanted to make the most of the theme of the villa,” she says.

NGA designers made a model of the spaces they were going to create as well as models of all the pieces. Mattusch says, “We spent months moving them around.”

There are 150 objects in all, including ancient frescoes, mosaics, sculptures, portraits and luxury arts. The last section of the exhibit is about the impact of the 18th-century rediscovery of the ancient cities and villas on the Bay of Naples.

Two years before the objects were to arrive, Mattusch began working on the exhibition catalog. She is principal author and editor of “Pompeii and the Roman Villa,” the book on that White House table.

Then brochures, a film, podcasts and family guides were created. Besides the work by the NGA departments of exhibition, design, education, conservation, horticulture and many more, special items were purchased for the gift shop to tie into the exhibit. NGA has even created a special Italian menu for the Garden Café (temporarily called the Café Italia).

Mason classics professor Martin Winkler hosted a complementary gallery film series in the fall. A public symposium is planned for March 20-21.

In 1996, Mattusch took on a similar task when she curated “The Fire of Hephaistos: Large Classical Bronzes from North American Collections” at Harvard University Art Museums. She also wrote the catalogue for that show. In fact, she came up with the idea for the current exhibit while writing a book about the largest private villa found to date in the Bay of Naples region.

“The Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum: Life and Afterlife of a Sculpture Collection” was published in 2005 and won the Charles Rufus Morey Award.

Mattusch is a longstanding member of the managing committee for the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and currently serves on its executive committee.

So far, “Pompeii and the Roman Villa” has been the biggest show of 2008-09, and more than 200,000 people had seen the exhibit, which runs through March 22, before inauguration week.

The show travels to the Los Angeles County Museum in May, where it will run until October 2009. Mattusch will spend some time in California giving tours and media interviews for the exhibition.

Is this the high point of her career? “I hope not,” says Mattusch. “I hope there is a lot more coming up.”

Vision Series lectures are free and open to the public. Tickets are available online, or at the Center for the Arts box office. A reception will follow the lecture.

Write to at