Pompeian Styles  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Pompeian Styles are four periods which are distinguished in ancient Roman mural painting. They were originally delineated and described by the German archaeologist August Mau in excavating wall-paintings at Pompeii, by far the largest group of surviving examples. These wall-painting styles have allowed researchers to differentiate between eras of building and decoration in buildings there in the centuries leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD which both destroyed the city and preserved the paintings, and between shifts in Roman art. In this succession of styles, there is a tension between the illusionist tendency from Greece and the decorative tendency which is the reflection of Italian tradition and Eastern influence.


First Style

The First style, also referred to as structural, incrustation or masonry style, was evident from the 2nd century BC until 80 BC. It is characterised by the simulation of marble, with other simulated elements (e.g. suspended alabaster discs in vertical lines, 'wooden' beams in yellow and 'pillars' and 'cornices' in white), and the use of vivid colour, both being a sign of wealth. This style was a replica of that found in the Ptolemaic palaces of the near east, where the walls were inset with real stones and marbles, and also reflects the spread of Hellenistic culture as Rome interacted and conquered other Greek and Hellenistic states in this period. Mural reproductions of Greek paintings are also found.

An example would be the wall painting in the Samnite House in Herculaneum (Late Second Century BC).

Second Style

The Second style, or architectural style, dominated the 1st century BC, where walls were decorated with architectural features and trompe l'oeil (trick of the eye) compositions. Early on, elements of this style are reminiscent of the First Style, but this slowly starts to be substituted element by element. This technique consists of highlighting elements to pass them off as three-dimensional realities - columns for example, dividing the wall-space into zones - and was a method widely used by the Romans.

It is characterized by use of relative perspective (not precise linear perspective) to create trompe l'oeil in wall paintings. The picture plane was pushed farther back into the wall by painted architectonic features such as Ionic columns or stage platforms. These wall paintings counteracted the claustrophobic nature of the small, windowless rooms of Roman houses.

Images and landscapes began to be introduced to the first style around 90 BC, and gained ground from 70 BC onwards, along with illusionistic and architectonic motives. Decoration had to give the greatest possible impression of depth. Imitations of images appeared, at first in the higher section, then (after 50 BC) in the background of landscapes which provided a stage for mythological stories, theatrical masks, or decorations.

During the reign of Augustus, the style evolved. False architectural elements opened up wide expanses with which to paint artistic compositions. A structure inspired by stage sets developed, whereby one large central tableau is flanked by two smaller ones. In this style, the illusionistic tendency continued, with a 'breaking up' of walls with painted architectural elements or scenes. The landscape elements eventually took over to cover the entire wall, with no framing device, so it looked to the viewer as if he or she was merely looking out of a room onto a real scene.

The predominant colours of this style are white, red, yellow, green, and magenta. Fashionable particularly from the 40s BC onwards, it began to wane in the final decades BC.

An example is the architectural painting at the Villa Boscoreale at Boscoreale (c. 40 BC).

Third Style

The Third style, or ornate style, lasted from around 20-10 BC as a reaction to the austerity of the previous period. It leaves room for more figurative and colorful decoration, with an overall more ornamental feeling, and often presents great finesse in execution.

Its main characteristic was departure from illusionistic devices, although these (along with figural representation) later crept back into this style. It obeyed strict rules of symmetry dictated by the central element, dividing the wall into 3 horizontal and 3-5 vertical zones. The vertical zones would be divided up by geometric motifs or bases, or slender columns of foliage hung around candelabra. Delicate motifs of birds or semi-fantastical animals appeared in the background. Plants and characteristically Egyptian animals were often introduced, part of the Egyptomania in Roman art after Augustus' defeat of Cleopatra and annexation of Egypt in 30 BC.

These paintings were decorated with delicate linear fantasies, predominantly monochromatic, that replaced the three-dimensional worlds of the Second Style. An example is the Villa of Livia in Prima Porta (c. 30-20 BC). Also included in this style are paintings similar to the one found in Cubiculum 15 of the Villa of Agrippa Postumus in Boscotrecase (c. 10 BC). These involve a delicate architectural frame over a blank, monochromatic background with only a small scene located in the middle, like a tiny floating landscape.

It was found in Rome until 40 AD and in the Pompeii area until 60 AD.

Fourth Style

Characterized as a baroque reaction to the Third Style's mannerism, the Fourth Style in Roman wall painting (ca. 20–79) is generally less disciplined than its predecessor. It revives large-scale narrative painting and panoramic vistas, while retaining the architectural details of the Third Style. In the Julio-Claudian phase (ca. 20–54), a textilelike quality dominates and tendrils seem to connect all the elements on the wall. The colors warm up once again, and they are used to advantage in the depiction of scenes drawn from mythology.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Pompeian Styles" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools