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Art, Science, and Mythology of Wine in Ancient Mediterranean Cultures

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Wall painting with Bacchus standing beside Mount Vesuvius Roman, from Pompeii, AD 60‒79 Fresco; H 130 cm Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, MANN 112286 Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Domestication of the wild grapevine was a fundamental step in the history of agriculture and civilization. A product of nature and, above all, of mankind, wine is the protagonist of incredible stories dating back to the origin of the Mediterranean civilization. From the Ancient Near East to Etruria, Rome and the vineyards of Pompeii, this two-part presentation by Professor Giovanni Di Pasquale is a journey about millenniums of history: the cultural and religious basis, the geographic diffusion of viticulture, the agricultural technologies employed, production, transport, adulteration, and consumption of wine.

This program is in support of our exhibition, Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave, and in partnership with the Consulate General of Italy in San Francisco. The second part of this presentation will be streamed on Wednesday, August 18. 

Watch Part 1 on our Youtube Channel

From the ritual of communion to unwelcome intoxication, from suspicious cult to gateway to spirituality, the juice of the grape tells stories of distant lands with their crops, climate, and natural environments, throwing light on the dense network of relationships existing between nature, art, and technological innovation. Once again, Pompeii and the Vesuvian area play a fundamental role to help us to focus on a world of nameless people attending taverns and drinking a wide range of wines. The “graffiti” recording their opinion on wine and food on the wall of many Pompeian taverns are a fantastic picture on the daily life of a Roman city in the I century A.D. The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. buried not only houses and streets, preserving priceless treasures of art and architecture, but also fields, gardens and vineyards, sealing their traces in the soil. The finding of wine-making apparatus and vegetal parts of grapevines, the discovery of holes left by the roots of the plants and their supporting poles, as well as the bunches of grapes appearing in frescoes, open an amazing window onto wine-growing two thousand years ago; to such an extent that, in some parts of the ancient city, it has even been possible to replant vineyards on their ancient sites.

About the Speaker

Giovanni Di Pasquale graduated in Classics at the University of Florence with the grade of 110/110 cum laude and, since 1993, he has been conducting studies and research at the Galileo Museum. Institute and Museum for the History of Science in Florence. His research focuses on the history of science and technics between Antiquity and the Middle Ages.  After obtaining his Ph.D. in history of science (University of Florence), he has got a research grant from the University of Cagliari and scholarships from the CNR (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche), CSIC (Consejo Superior Investigaciones Cientificas, Madrid), and the Max Planck Institut for the History of Science in Berlin.

Since 2009 he has been an adjunct associate professor of History of Science at the Texas A&M University, Faculty of Architecture (the Italian Texas A&M branch). In the past years he has hold seminars for the Kansas State University and the summer school for the history of science of North Eastern University, Boston (Italian branch). For the Galileo Museum, in cooperation with the main Italian Archaeological Museums and Soprintendenze, he is the curator of a series of international traveling exhibitions such as “Homo Faber. Nature, Science and Technics in Ancient Pompeii (Naples 1999; Los Angeles 1999; Munich 2000; Paris 2001; Tokjo 2002); “Vitrum. Glass between Art and Science in the Roman World (Florence 2004; Paris 2005); “The Ancient Garden from Babylon to Rome. Science, Art, Nature” (Florence 2010); “Vinum Nostrum. Art, Science and Myths of Wine in Ancient Mediterranean Cultures” (Florence 2010);  “Archimedes. Art and Science of Invention” (Rome 2013; Trento, Science Museum 2017 and Syracuse 2018); “Pompeii. The Immortal City” (Bruxelles 2017; Richmond Science Museum, Virginia 2019; Spokane, Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, 2020; Orlando, Florida Science Center, 2020-21; Quebec City, Musée de la Civilisation, 2021-22); “The Trajan Column. The Art of Building a Masterpiece” (Florence 2019). In the quality of curator of the exhibition “Vitrum. Glass between Art and Science in the Roman World” he has received in the year 2006 the “Dibner Award for the most outstanding exhibition”. He is the editor of the journal “Automata. Journal of Nature, Science and Technics in Antiquity”, the unique publication focusing exclusively on the history of science and technics in the Classical and Medieval World published by l’erma di Bretschneider (Rome). He has held many conferences in Italy and abroad (Oxford, Paris, Berlin, Houston) and is the author of over 70 publications including monographs, edited books and articles in scientific journals.  In 2006 Umberto Eco asked him to write several contributes dealing with science history in Antiquity and Middle Ages within the pages of his encyclopedic work (Encyclomedia Publishers, Milan). His monograph “Technology and Mechanics. Transmission of  Technical Knowledge from Hellenistic World to Rome” (Florence, Olschki, 2004, 410 pp.) has been published within the prestigious series “Biblioteca Italiana della Scienza”; his recently published monograph “Le macchine nel mondo antico” (“Machines in Ancient World. From Mesopotamia to Imperial Rome”, Rome, Carocci 2019) has been shortlisted for the 2019 “National Scientific Publications Award”. In 2021 he has been short listed at the international selection for the role of Director of Pompeii Archaeological Park.

About the Exhibition

In AD 79, the Bay of Naples was rocked by the fiery eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Pompeii and nearby villages and farms were completely buried under pumice and hot ash, which killed thousands in the midst of their daily activities. Plaster casts of these bodies are a dramatic reminder of this disaster but, like a fly caught in amber, what was preserved gives us a picture of what life was like in a thriving Roman city. The exhibition brings us back into this world by focusing on everyday life and especially on food and drink. Along with the pots, pans, and other paraphernalia in the distribution, preparing, and serving food, this exhibition includes glorious works of art, which reveal the splendor and luxury loved by the wealthy Romans who called Pompeii their home.

Ticket Information

No registration is required. Free online event. 

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Contact Information

Public Programs
(415) 750-7624