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The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (work of art)

Artwork Info

53 1/8 x 89 inches (134.9 x 226.1 centimeters)


Purchased with funds from the Alcy C. Kendrick Bequest and the State of North Carolina, by exchange

Object Number
European French
European to 1910

Key Ideas about this Work of Art

  • The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius depicts a colorful, dramatic landscape. The volcano’s brightly colored lava contrasts with the blue glimmer of the moon and the water. This contrast creates a heightened sense of drama in the painting.
  • Volaire’s paintings were often purchased as souvenirs by travelers on their Grand Tour. The Grand Tour was a so-called rite of passage for wealthy young men in the 18th century. During their tour, the men studied ruins, cities, landscapes, and artworks throughout Europe. Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii were common stops on the tour, and Volaire made a living as a souvenir artist there.
  • Neoclassicism was a cultural movement in the 18th and 19th centuries. Art and architecture inspired by ancient Greece and Rome became popular during this time period.
  • In 79 CE, the city of Pompeii was destroyed by an eruption of lava from Mount Vesuvius. 
  • The ruins of Pompeii were discovered in 1748. Interest in ancient civilizations and the scientific developments of this time period led to the preservation and study of ancient ruins.
  • This painting depicts an eruption of Mount Vesuvius that Volaire witnessed in 1769.

Learn More

Looming over the grand tour destination of Naples, the volcano Mt. Vesuvius was famous already in the 1700s for its destruction of the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. To the alarm and fascination of tourists, it still occasionally erupted.

Here we see the chaos sparked by one such event, which Volaire witnessed in 1769. Even the moon pales in comparison to Vesuvius, whose outpouring of lava produces smoke and ash as it meets the air. Volaire made a career in Italy executing remarkable souvenir pictures of the erupting Vesuvius, among the principal natural attractions of Europe at the time.

Tags: volcano, landscape, earth science, geology, landforms

Additional Resources

Resources for Teachers: 


Resources for Students:


  • An oil painting of a night scene at the base of Mount Vesuvius. The volcano erupts in the background as lava flows into the town below. In the foreground, people are shown running across a bridge, away from the volcano. On the right side of the painting, the surface of the moonlit ocean is scattered with boats.

    The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius