Photo courtesy of the Superintendency of Archaeology of Pompeii.

With maidenly grace, the lovely Flora—Roman goddess of all that blooms—gathers flowers in this fresco from the Villa Arianna, a luxurious first-century A.D. residential complex in ancient Stabiae, on Italy’s Bay of Naples. An ambitious archaeological project has been launched to excavate the Stabiae villas, where Rome’s power elite gathered in the decades before the 79 A.D. eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. In “Power Houses: The Seaside Villas of Stabiae,” art historian Thomas Noble Howe recaptures the good life enjoyed by the Stabiaeans.