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The Eruption of Vesuvius

A work made of oil on canvas.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of oil on canvas.




Pierre-Jacques Volaire
French, 1729–after 1799

About this artwork

In this imposing composition, molten lava spews from the mouth of Mount Vesuvius in Italy and winds down the hillside towards the Bay of Naples. Energetic human figures observe the spectacle, their small scale emphasizing the volcano’s enormity.

Vesuvius erupted six times between 1707 and 1794 and thus became a touchstone of popular culture at the time. This same period saw the first systematic excavations of Pompeii, the ancient city that Vesuvius famously destroyed in 79 CE. The romance of Vesuvius simultaneously wondrous and terrifying, ancient and contemporary—made it a frequent subject in 18th-century European art and literature. Paintings like this had enormous appeal in tourist markets.


On View, Gallery 219


Painting and Sculpture of Europe


Pierre-Jacques Volaire


The Eruption of Vesuvius


France (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Oil on canvas


Inscribed bottom left: Vue de l'Eruption / du mont Vesuve du 14 / may 1771 peinte Sur le / lieu par le Che Volaire.


116.8 × 242.9 cm (46 × 95 5/8 in.)

Credit Line

Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection

Reference Number


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