Thursday, 6 June 2013

A Lost Family

Judging by the family portraits they left us, they must have been well-off. The husband and wife are depicted side-by-side, wearing their best clothes. He chose to be painted holding an official-looking document with a red seal attached, suggesting something legal. His wife, more informally, is shown sucking the end of a pencil, with a quizzical expression on her face, as if she was wondering whether she might have left something off her shopping list. In a separate picture a younger woman, presumably their daughter, is also sucking a pencil and clutching a notebook in her left hand, but her expression more resembles a poet searching for the next line.
    They would have been proud of their home, with its brightly-painted walls. They had a dog, and like many home-owners since, they had put up a sign warning intruders that their dog was very fierce. They would especially have loved their neat little garden, which had a few statues amongst the flowers, and we can imagine them enjoying a drink of wine there with their friends in a summer evening. Their surviving pictures show they had good taste, and maybe they regarded the somewhat explicit artworks favoured by their neighbours as a bit vulgar. Our family preferred pictures of birds and plants. One particularly delightful painting shows a young girl gathering spring flowers, so realistic that you can see the blossom falling around her.
     But it was not blossom which fell on our family on that terrible day many years ago: it was something far more deadly. And they are gone, so we are no longer certain even of their names, but their home and their pictures still survive; pictures in which the blossom never did fall, but is frozen forever in an eternal spring.    

(This was written after visiting the Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum. I have, of course, combined details from several different houses in the town; but that is how they were set out in the exhibition)

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