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This year’s pumpkin lantern is a five foot long panoramic view of the Last Day of Pompeii, carved on a 75 pound ‘Atlantic Giant’ pumpkin from our garden.
Pliny the elder was a man of science, and an historian. He lived in Pompeii, and being a man of letters, kept a thorough diary. When he woke, August 25th, 79AD, it was a day like any other in Pompeii. He had a cold bath, and breakfasted on the balcony.
The panorama starts at left, in the morning, as Pompeii wakes and comes to life on its last day.
Morning in Pompeii, August 25th, 79AD. No sign of danger, a perfectly beautiful day by all accounts. At top here in the carving is a quote from Pliny the Elder’s Diary, from later in the day.
Very quickly the world began to fall apart. Earthquakes shook the region, twenty miles in all directions. A strange Cloud appeared above Vesuvius (no one was aware that it was in fact a volcano). Pliny writes:
“A cloud made of ash and dirt appears to be coming from Mount Vesuvius”. -Pliny the Elder
After the Earthquakes came the falling boulders, some the size of houses, and many of which were on fire as they came. This is a detail of a flaming chunk of pumice crashing through the roof of the Forum’s left market building, sending roof tiles flying, structure exploding, and people scattering.
Pliny, However, didn’t flee. He investigated:
“The scientist in me wants to get a closer look. Having my boat made ready”. -Pliny the Elder
Same View, with the Room Lights On
Fleeing Residents of Pompeii (Enlarged Detail)
At the center of the Pompeii Forum stood the Temple of Jupiter, anchoring the space, and standing literally under and in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.
The Quote on the Pumpkin, from Pliny’s Diary later in the day, reads:
“Buildings have come loose from their foundations.
…sheets of flame engulf Vesuvius,
and rocks consumed by fire are falling everywhere around us”
The Temple of Jupiter, anchoring the center of the Forum of Pompeii, and with Mount Vesuvius Looming in the Background
In the center, an abandoned merchant’s cart, a statue falling from the tri-part archway beyond, and people crawling to shelter in the Temple, suffocating from the fumes and ash. At right is another market building, with fallen columns in the foreground, the building itself collapsing from an aftershock, columns caught mid-collapse, and the roof coming down.
“Walking through town. We can see broad sheets of flames rising from Pompeii.” -Pliny the Elder
A View of the Temple of Jupiter and Vesuvius, with the Room Lights On
A Closer View of the Market Building’s Collapsing Structure and Columns, which are Becoming Buried Under Ash as the Day (and Pompeii) Comes to a Close
Pliny the Elder had no exit strategy. In fact, instead of escaping, he went back. He even went to bed, rising again in the middle of the night in a belated attempt to flee. He and his group tying pillows over their heads and heading to the shore.
“Tying pillows to our heads with cloth and heading for the shore. Rocks are falling everywhere around us. Our only possible escape is by boat.” -Pliny the Elder
End of the Day, and of Pompeii
The last detail here is of a buried Pompeii, the ash burying a portico remnant to its waist, with burnt tree trunks smoking ruins at left in the distance, and a cooling rivulet of lava coming toward us.
The Same Detail, with Room Lights On
Pliny did not survive. His last entries to the diary:
“The air is thick with ash.” and ” Breathing now impossible” -Pliny the Elder
Before doing the actual carving, I mocked-up a cartoon from a bunch of collaged elements and overpaint. I use it as a rough guide, and rather than try to meticulously transfer it, I instead freehand the rough outline onto the pumpkin in water soluble ink. It washes off later, and the freehanding allows me to change and shift things in the composition to suit the defects of the pumpkin.
Half-Size Mock-Up of the Concept Art for the Carving (click for enlarged view)
As has become obvious, the stitching together of the panorama is clunky at best, and it’s very difficult to capture what it really feels to move around the pumpkin viewing the entire scene. In “real-life”, the coloration is less contrasty, and has a great deal more depth. Here’s a link to a movie, which approximates the experience as best it can… “One Day in Pompeii”, on youtube
Thanks for playing along, and Happy Halloween! -Jeff (and Pliny)