By: Amy Mair-Jones
The print, ‘The Temple of Isis at Pompeii‘ was created by both Louis Jean Desprez and Francesco Piranesi in 1788. This print was first etched by Piranesi, and then hand coloured by Desprez, creating an artwork which originated from an united idea. These individuals were of both European and Italian lineage. Historically, Desprez was trained as both a stage designer and architect, while also being a talented water-colourist. He collaborated with Francesco Piranesi, the son of the celebrated print-maker Giovanni Piranesi, by drawing views of Naples, Rome, and Pompeii in which Piranesi etched. Desprez then completed the prints with watercolour.
‘The Temple of Isis at Pompeii‘ was inspired by, and created as a representation of, the ‘actual’ Temple of Isis at the Pompeii excavation site. The Temple of Isis is a Roman temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis. This small and almost intact temple was among one of the first discoveries during the excavation of Pompeii in 1764. Its role as a Hellenized Egyptian temple in a Roman colony was fully confirmed with an inscription detailed by Francisco la Vega on July 20, 1765. Original paintings and sculptures can still be seen today at the Museo Archaeologico in Naples; while the site itself remains on the Via del Tempio di Iside at Pompeii. In the aftermath of the temple’s discovery many well-known artists and illustrators swarmed to the site, and continued to do so for decades, such as the artists Louis Jean Desprez and Francesco Piranesi.
The print depicts the scenes of tourists enjoying the ruins at Pompeii, demonstrating how interest in antiquity had been augmented by the archaeological excavations, at both Herculaneum and Pompeii. The discovery of homes, furnishings, and personal artifacts also revealed the domestic aspects of Ancient life in comparison to the Victorian’s. These discoveries further promoted travel to Pompeii, and sites such as the Temple of Isis nearby, where theft of furnishings, bodies, and artifacts were prevalent. These thefts allowed for artifacts and items of historical importance to be either damaged, destroyed, or lost over time as individuals and groups sought for their own piece of ‘history’ or ‘Pompeii’. In regards to the print, the purpose and consumption of the artwork in unknown, leading for conclusions to rely solely on personal opinions and conjecture. However, even with this issue, the historical meaning behind the print is to show ‘The Temple of Isis at Pompeii‘ as both an appreciation for our historical history and a critique of our actions within these sites.