THE DOG FROM POMPEI
AUGUST 24, 79 A.D.
The scene described by Pliny the Younger occurred on an August afternoon in 79 A.D. Of the more than 20,000 inhabitants in the city of Pompei, several hundred died that day in their homes and in the streets. The rest fled toward the sea.
The Pompeians who died trying to flee the city were buried in layers of moist ash, which as it fell was packed gently about the victims, precisely in the manner of plaster molds, preserving in detail their very features, the musculature of their bodies, and even the folds of their garments.
Of course the bodies of these Pompeians decomposed in time; but by then the molds had hardened, and the outlines endured throughout the centuries.
These mold formations were discovered as early as 1860 by one of the first archaeologists at Pompei, Giuseppe Fiorelli. He is credited with developing the process by which the molds - one might call them negatives in clay - are turned into the positive plaster forms. The technique was further refined by the archaeologist Amadeo Maiuri, who was in charge of Pompei excavations for much of the present century.
The technique is simple. During excavation, the presence of the ash cavities is detected by cautiously tapping the ground with blunted pickaxes. When the excavators spot a hollow, they drill several holes through the stratum of ash directly into the mold.
Through these holes the chamber is probed and cleaned with a surgeon's tool, and thinned plaster of Paris is poured into the cavity. In three days' time the plaster has hardened, and the surrounding ash is chipped away, destroying the original cavity, to uncover a cast of the eruption victim.
The results are startling. Suddenly we are faced with the inhabitants of Pompei from the dim past, captured at their very moment of death. Some show an attitude of fierce struggle against their fate; others recline peacefully as though in sleep.
The cavity of The Dog From Pompei was discovered November 20, 1874, in the house of Marcus Vesonius Primus, in the "Fauce," the corridor at the entrance of the house. The house was located in Region VI, Insula 14, Nr. 20.
During the eruption, the unfortunate dog, wearing his bronze-studded collar, was left chained up at his assigned place to watch the house, and he suffocated beneath the ash and cinders.
Allan McCollum's casts were taken directly from a mold made especially for the artist from the original second-generation cast presently on display at the Museo Vesuviano, in present-day Pompei. The project was realized by special permission of the Pompei Tourist Board, and was made possible through the co-ordination of Studio Trisorio, Naples, Italy, and Essex Works, New York City.