The Romantic era brought together two obsessions of the age—the puzzle of the earth’s history, and travel as a means of instruction and the exploration of exploring feeling. They were intimately connected on Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that dominated the city and the Bay of Naples. Its slopes were thronged by tourists and natural philosophers, and its embodiment of nature’s power over man made it an ideal means for reflecting on life and death and the vanity of human wishes. A visitors’ book to Vesuvius, covering the 1820s, and other texts and images provide us with unique insights into this world.

This exhibition was guest curated by John Brewer, Faculty Associate Harvard University History Department; Eli and Edythe Broad Emeritus Professor in Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology; and author of Volcanic: Vesuvius in the Age of Revolutions.

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