Blogging from A to Z: F is for Fiorelli, Giuseppe

Giuseppe_Fiorelli
Giuseppe Fiorelli. Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Hi, everyone. Today, I want to tell you about Giuseppe Fiorelli (1823-1896). An Italian archaeologist, Fiorelli’s methodical approach to excavation is largely responsible for the level of preservation we see at Pompeii today, although his work there stopped in 1848. Fiorelli was actually imprisoned for a while, having run afoul of Naples’ King Ferdinand II, because he believed that art and artifacts should be studied in situ rather than being looted for palaces and private homes.

Fiorelli found that art and artifacts could be better studied and preserved if sites were excavated from the top down. Of course, many important items were still looted … but at least archaeologists had an idea of their context. Fiorelli is also the one who created the system of regiones, insulae, and domus that are still used at Pompeii today for maps and study.

In 1875, Fiorelli was named director general of Italian Antiquities and Fine Arts, a post he held until his death. However, he was probably best known for what we now call the “Fiorelli method.”

Fiorelli realized that there were voids in the ash at Pompeii. In order to see what had been in those voids, Fiorelli very carefully filled them with plaster of Paris. Once the plaster had hardened, the ash was brushed away, at which time the remains of people, animals, and even plant life were revealed. These castings provide the most poignant images of the last moments of life as Pompeii was destroyed.

(Unless otherwise noted, photos are by the author.)

8 thoughts on “Blogging from A to Z: F is for Fiorelli, Giuseppe

  1. Your A-Z theme looks very interesting, and I’m glad I found your blog on the master list. These images from Pompeii are fascinating and horrifying at the same time. I didn’t know we owed thanks to Fiorelli that we have the opportunity to see the marks these lost people left on their city. Thank you for the post.

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  2. What a clever idea to discover the people and animals from thin air. I remember reading about Pompeii in the Readers Digest Childrens’ Annual when I was young. The article was called, “The City that Died to Live”. It took 40 years before I got to see it and another ten to see Herculaneum.

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    1. Isn’t it, though? There are so many amazing new tools available to archaeologists and anthropologist now, and they still use the Fiorelli method for various things. As recently as 2018-19, it was used in the House of the Garden (excavated for the first time) to discover a piece of furniture in a void. That helped them to know that the people whose remains were found there had pushed a bed up against a door.

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