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Alessandro Sanquirico : “Scene from ‘The Last Day of Pompeii,'” (c. 1832)

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The 1825 premiere of Pacini’s L’ultimo giorno di Pompei (“The last day of Pompeii”) was a special effects extravaganza. According to the J. Paul Getty Museum, “as the music thundered, parts of the scenery shook violently; massive columns collapsed and broke apart, causing huge pieces of the vaulting to crash down. For the effects of fire, lava, and ash, a complex lighting system was developed, and large quantities of highly flammable powder were ignited at every performance.” Spectators were reported to have been terrified as realistic lava appeared to flow toward the front of the stage.

Published in Raccolta di varie decorazioni sceniche inventate ed eseguite per il R. Teatro alla Scala di Milano (“Collection of Various Scenic Decorations Designed and Executed for the Royal Theater at La Scala, Milan”), this aquatint engraving shows the set design for the climactic scene in Alessandro Sanquirico’s 1827 La Scala production. Though the set designs for the Naples premiere have been lost, Getty curator Kenneth Lapitan has proposed that Sanquirico’s designs probably followed the original production quite closely.

L’ultimo giorno di Pompei was one of the inspirations for Karl Bryullov’s painting, The Last Day of Pompeii, which in turn inspired Bulwer-Lytton’s famous novel, The Last Days of Pompeii.

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