Exposition temporaire
“Plon-Plon, un Bonaparte rouge et or” 24 juin – 2 octobre 2023″

  Rediscovering the Pompeian House


« How many times did we stay up until the latest hours of the night in his pompeian mansion to discuss a fresco, a bas-relief, a bronze statue or one rarity brought to us by a truly divine arch thrown upon the flood of the defeated ! Perhaps those who saw the roman house’s lights from afar pictured us having a loud nightly feast. In lieu of nightly celebration were the horizon to the past wide open, the eloquent history of long gone worlds, the summoning of great artists who, even better than the historians, passed onto us this gleaming sun of all things beautiful. »

(Arsène Houssaye, Confessions, 1891)


The Pompeian House was inaugurated in February of 1860 with a party that became part of the legend of the Second Empire. The Emperor, Empress and all the people of Paris deemed to matter received a programm titled « Pompeii Theatre. Reopening after an eighteen hundred years break due to repairs. » The french theatre actors performed Théophile Gautier’s Diomède’s Wife and Émile Augier’s The Flute Player for which the rehearsals were immortalised in the form of a painting by Gustave Boulanger. Diomède’s Wife tells the story of a Pompeian woman awakening in Plon-Plon’s house after sleeping for eighteen centuries. The set, the text and the guests participated in creating the illusion, giving a proper meaning to the Pompeian House as a theatre set.

The visitors were especially moved to discover marble representations of Charles and Laetizia Bonaparte along with their four sons and three daughters (Napoleon’s siblings) as well as Catherine de Wurtemberg, the prince’s mother, standing together in the atrium like an ensemble of deities protecting the prince’s temple.

Rediscovered and identified for the first exhibition, these busts are a unique chapter of the Bonaparte family history. Among other unseen before works are the paintings of Sébastien Cornu, Ingres’ pupil, for the Pompeian House that were believed to have been lost since its destruction in 1891 : Neptune and Amphitrite is inspired by a mosaic just uncovered in Algeria at the time.

The House is not a backward looking creation but a testament to contemporary researches regarding Antiquity and a pioneering attempt at experimental archeology. Visitors enter it as in the fantastic short story Arria Marcella by Théophile Gautier : spectacle, entertainment and music go along with scholarship and dream alike. Those scholarly parties are the expression of a brillant art de vivre, a moment of high cultural importance at a time when no one seemed to take caution in the growling of the volcano that was about to shake and shatter Europe.


This exhibition features the first ever 3D rendition of the Pompeian House which you can see in the main hall.