The National Archaeological Museum of Naples derives from the Royal Bourbon Museum, one of Europe's oldest and largest museums. Founded in the second half of the 18th century by Ferdinando I, it brought together two separate royal collections: one comprising the paintings and antiquities inherited by Carlo III from his mother, Elisabetta Farnese; the other created in the Museo Ercolanese in Portici to collate the finds emerging from the excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii, begun in 1738 and 1748 respectively. By 1830 the whole of the collection was on display, but the Museum continued to expand throughout the 19th century, both through the acquisition of private collections, and the addition of finds from the excavations of the archaeological sites in Campania and southern Italy.
On the unification of Italy in 1860 the Museum became state property and was renamed the National Museum. At present, with radical restoration work on the building almost completed, a comprehensive reorganisation of the collections is in progress.
The Sculpture collection comprises the statues, assembled by Farnese family in Rome during the Renaissance, as well as works from numerous sites in Campania. The Cabinet of the Farnese gems contains specimens of the highest artistic quality produced in Greek, Roman and Renaissance times. The Epigraphic section comprises important inscriptions in Greek, Oscan, Etruscan and Latin languages from the many sites of Magna Graecia, Campania, and Rome itself. The Egyptian collection, formed between 1821 and 1827, combined the private collections belonging to Cardinal Borgia and to the antiquarian Giuseppe Picchianti. The collection of coins and medals comprises some 200,000 items, ranging from Ancient Greek and Roman times up to 19th century. The Prehistory and Protohistory sections displays objects from the civilisations which flourished in the Bay of Naples and its hinterlands from the Palaeolithic Era to the Recent Bronze Age. The rooms dedicated to Pithecusa (Ischia) are the beginning of a section dedicated to the Greek colonisation (8th century BC) in Campania and South Italy, up to the Hellenistic-Roman culture (Villa of the Papyri).
But the majority of the Museum's collections are based on the archaeological materials found in Pompeii and other Vesuvian sites: chiefly the frescoes and the mosaics, dating from the 2nd and 1st centuries BC up to 79 AD. Particular sections, recently reassembled, are dedicated to the so-called Cabinet of the Obscene, created in 1819, and to the frescoes and objects removed from the Temple of Isis at Pompeii in the years 1764-66. Glass, ivory, bone, glazed terracotta and silverware collections consist mainly of objects from houses excavated in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Between the numerous bronze materials are those related to the baths and the armours worn by the Pompeian gladiators.
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