The daily life of the ancient Romans will be recreated in London next year,when the biggest exhibition on Pompeii and Herculaneum for almost four decades comes to the British Museum. The show, due to open in the spring, will display 250 treasures from the two cities where life was destroyed by the catastrophic volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.
Neil MacGregor, the museum's director, said the exhibition would present "some of the greatest objects" from the preserved sites, including a celebrated fresco of Flora, the goddess of flowers and the season of spring. Mr MacGregor said: "[It is] one of the most famous Roman paintings to have survived. Its loan is remarkable."
It is the first time the British Museum has mounted an exhibition about the two cities, and it will display newly excavated items and others that have never travelled outside Italy.
Mr MacGregor hopes the exhibition will offer "a new view of Pompeii", with insights into how ordinary people lived at about the time of the eruption. "It will enable the visitor to explore the cities and inside a Roman household. That brings us closer to the people," he added. "They are two provincial cities that have suddenly become immortalised … It is as if suddenly Brighton and Hove were all that are left of modern Britain. That is one of the fascinations: the random selection of two not particularly distinguished places have become the carrier of a whole civilisation."
The eruption of Vesuvius preserved Pompeii and Herculaneum until they were discovered by archaeologists nearly 1,700 years later. Among the treasures on display for the first time are a sculpted marble relief found in 2009, carved ivory panels and objects from pottery to brass found in a drainage system. The museum will display casts of six residents who died, including a family huddled together in their last moments, and six pieces of carbonised wooden furniture.
Paul Roberts, the exhibition's curator, said it would offer distinct views of two different cities: one a seaside resort, the other an industrial centre. "Different cities with different stories come together to give us the true picture. These are not extraordinary cities, that's why they're important; they die in an extraordinary way," he said.