HSAR 252: Roman Architecture
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HSAR 252 - Lecture 7 - Gilding the Lily: Painting Palaces and Villas in the First Century A.D.
Chapter 1. Introduction to Third and Fourth Style Roman Wall Painting [00:00:00]
Professor Diana E.E. Kleiner: Good morning everyone. As you can see from today’s lecture title, we’re going to be talking about painting palaces and villas in the first century A.D. But I could also call this lecture a lecture on Third and Fourth Style Roman wall painting, because we’re going to continue our conversation today about the four architectural styles of Roman wall painting. In order to do that, I just want to remind you of what we talked about last time. We covered the First and Second Styles of Roman wall painting, and you’ll remember that what they had in common is that they both tried to create an illusion of what they weren’t, in a sense. Think back to the First Style of Roman wall painting, when the painters tried to transform a rubble wall into a marble wall, to create the illusion that it was indeed a marble wall, rather than a rubble wall.
And in the case of the Second Style–and I show you two examples again of that here, the detail from the Villa of Publius Fannius Sinistor, on the left-hand side of the screen, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the House of Augustus, the Room of the Masks in the House of Augustus, on the Palatine Hill in Rome, both examples of Second Style Roman wall painting. And we saw in this instance that the illusion was to create the sense that you were looking through a window, to transform, once again, the rubble wall into a window, a window that showed what might lie outside the villa, in the peristyle court, for example. Remember this one, with the shrine or tholos that is surrounded by blue sky and looks like it is located perhaps in a domestic peristyle, and then over here this window that opens onto a sacro-idyllic landscape. We are being beckoned into that sacro-idyllic landscape to explore the sacred items within it and even beyond. So opening up these walls illusionistically, to create an illusion in both, but in the case of the Second Style, to open the wall up illusionistically as a panoramic window. We also explored the fact that in the Second Style the Roman designers, the Roman painters, seemed to have experimented with one-point linear perspective, this perspective in which all points recede to a single point in the distance, and that we see that use of one-point perspective in the Second Style wall paintings in the Room of the Masks.
We also talked about the relationship between Second Style Roman wall painting and theatrical architecture – that they may have been looking at actual theaters, possibly in wood, possibly in other more permanent materials that no longer survive, or they may have been creating this, in part, out of whole cloth. So this connection to the theater, and the one last point that I want to remind you of is the fact that we also discussed that, although there’s an enormous respect for earlier Greek architecture, not only in these painting but in the temples and in the cities and in the sanctuaries that we’ve already explored, and we see the Roman painters using those elements of Greek architecture–columns and pediments and the like–in the Second Style, we also see that they are beginning to break the rules. They have a respect for Greek architecture, but they’re also willing to bend the rules, an example being, of course, their use of the triangular pediment here, but they have broken that triangular pediment apart to reveal the tholos here. This is a very important development, and we saw it already also in the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina, where you’ll remember the column capitals in the ramp and how they slanted those column capitals in a way that Greek architects never would have done. We see that same sort of breaking of the rules here. It’s extremely important because it shows again that although they revered the past, they were willing to look forward to the future. And we’re going to see, especially in the late first century A.D., into the second century A.D., further exploration of that kind of thing, and it’s going to have a huge impact on Roman architecture.
In order to explore the Third and Fourth Styles, I need to go to a couple of other cities than the ones we’ve looked at thus far. I have the map here once again that shows Campania. We are going to be looking at the city of – or a villa – in the town of Oplontis, which you see here. We’ll also be looking at an important villa at Boscotrecase. And you can see the proximity of those two to the sites we’ve already discussed–Pompeii, Herculaneum, Boscoreale, and also Naples, up here. I want to look first at a villa, or the paintings at a villa, at Oplontis. This villa–and you see a plan of it here–appears to have belonged to a woman by the name of Poppaea–P-o-p-p-a-e-a. Who was Poppaea? Poppaea was first the mistress and then the wife of Rome’s notorious emperor Nero. Initially it looked as if the two were soul mates because she seemed to have as much of a mean streak as he did, in that she encouraged him, quite avidly, to murder his mother, to murder his first wife, and even to murder the philosopher Seneca. But despite the fact that they seemed to have been soul mates, Nero turned against her, and in fact when she announced to him that she was pregnant, he kicked her in the stomach, which caused her death. But after her death he took advantage of her death and divinized her, made her a diva for his own political purposes. So a very interesting saga here, between Nero and his wife Poppaea.
The reason that we think Poppaea owned this villa, or lived in this villa at some point–and the villa dates, we believe, to 20 to 10 B.C.–the reason we believe that she lived there is that there was an amphora, one of these terracotta pots, that was found in the excavation with the name of a freedman, a freedman of Poppaea, which suggests that she may well have lived there. The other interesting observation that archaeologists made when they excavated this particular house is that it looked like it had been empty at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius, when it had been indeed covered over with ash and lava. And they also found a lot of tools lying around the house, which led to their belief that the house was probably in the process of being renovated. It may have suffered damage in the earthquake and was in the process of being renovated, before reuse, at the time Vesuvius struck.
If we look at this very good plan of what is preserved of this villa today, we can pick out a number of features that we’ve already become accustomed to in our study of Roman domestic architecture: houses and villas. We can see peristyle courts with columns, for example. We notice here the very large atrium, with the impluvium designated here in plan. There was a kitchen, an extensive kitchen, over here as well. We also see the use of columns, these colonnades that are part of peristyles, in some cases, but also are colonnades that look out from the villa toward what surrounds it – the landscape and the sea and so on, that surround it. And it’s another example of what we began to see in the second phase of the plan of the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, and that is an opening up of the facade, an incorporation of a larger number of windows to make the facade lighter and more airy, as well as a series of colonnades with spectacular views toward what lay outside the villa. The most important room for us today is Room Number 8, over here, and that room is part of an interior bath, an elaborate interior bath, that was part of this villa. And Room Number 8, which is basically a rectangular room, as you can see here, was the caldarium or the warm room of that bath, and it has some very interesting paintings that will show us the transition between what we know of as Second Style Roman wall painting and what we term Third Style Roman wall painting.
This is a view of the villa as it looks today. You can see, like Herculaneum, it is very closely surrounded by modern apartment houses and so on. Here you see it. It’s only again part of what the original villa was. But even from this view, you can get a sense of how open it was compared to those very enclosed, severe domus italica houses that we began with. You see here this opening up, views through columns and doorways, but also these peristyle courts and colonnaded courts and so on, that again give this a very open appearance, which is part of again this important development toward that kind of openness. The villa has in it both Second and Third Style Roman wall paintings, which again makes it extremely interesting, because it is clear that there was some transitioning here, from one style to the other.
And I should mention, by the way, that with regard to the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Styles, they weren’t necessarily an evolution, a development, from one point to another; by that I mean I don’t think the painters or the patrons necessarily had in mind, “We’re going to start at Point A and get to Point D eventually.” I think that what we’re dealing with here, as we talk about this chronological evolution, is a transition of styles that had something to do in part probably with fashion, with fashion for a particular way of decorating things, and, of course, with influences that were coming in from other parts of the world. And, in fact, as far as the transition from the Second to the Third Style, the cycle of styles seems to suggest that at the time that the Second Style was at its most popular was just when those who owned these houses wanted to move on to something new, understandably. Once everybody had it, it was time to think about something else. And so the cycle, just as these walls that we’ve been describing–the Room of the Masks, the Fannius Sinistor, and this one in Oplontis that we see on the left-hand side of the screen–just as they gained their greatest popularity, there was a decision to move on to still another cycle of taste. And again, that’s exactly what we’re going to see at Oplontis.
Chapter 2. Transition from Second to Third Style at Oplontis [00:11:41]
I show you here on the left–actually it’s not on your Monument List but in order to get us to the Third Style, I want to say something about a Second Style painting at Oplontis, and we see a detail of that on the left-hand side of the screen. I compare it to the Second Style, or a part of the Second Style wall of P. Fannius Sinistor at Boscoreale. And I think you can see the resemblance between the two. The objectives are the same. The artist is trying to open up the wall, to create a picture window through which you can see a vista – a vista that includes a round shrine, just as we saw here. So the same at Oplontis, a round shrine, in this case with the windows [correction: columns] spread to see a cult statue inside, and that shrine, that circular shrine or tholos, surrounded by a peristyle, the kind of peristyle that one might have seen inside one of these Roman houses surrounding a garden. Just as at Boscoreale, we see the gateway that seems to separate us from what lies beyond, and we see again the structure surrounded by blue sky. We also see these very substantial columns that are characteristic of the Second Style, projecting out into the spectator’s space, supporting entablatures that also project out into the spectator’s space, and supporting also a lintel that has a ceiling, with coffers that recede into depth. So what we see in Second Style at Oplontis is very similar to what we saw at Second Style, at Boscoreale and also at Pompeii, at Cubiculum 16 of the Villa of the Mysteries.
But if we look at Caldarium 8, Room 8, the caldarium of the bath, we see something that may look superficially similar, but is actually very, very different, and I think you can pick out those differences very quickly, just as I can. What we’re looking at here is a view of three walls – the most important back wall here, and then the walls to the right and to the left. And if you look carefully, you will see that the coloration is similar: the famous Pompeian red, a nice maroon, some black, some gold used here. And again, a quick glance, you see that there’s a landscape of some sort, with a blue sky right in the center. So you’re–being used to Second Style painting, you might say to yourself, “Oh well, that’s another window into something that lies beyond.” But if we look at it very carefully we will see that that is not the case at all. We’re going to see here that what has happened is that the artists have rejected the perspectival panoramas of the Second Style, in favor of going back to an appreciation of the flatness of a wall. What is a wall but flat? A wall is flat. A flat wall is to be decorated. So sort of believing in that integrity of that wall is the cornerstone of the thinking for what we call Third Style Roman wall painting. And you can see the way the artist has treated the wall: a series of zones; a painted maroon zone or a socle down here; a middle tier, painted Pompeian red; an upper tier painted this gold; all of which looks like a series of stripes across the wall.
Let me show you another view, which is a little bit brighter, so that I think you can see this better; the maroon zone, the red zone, and the gold zone. And if you look also at the painting in the center, you will see that there are some architectural elements, but they are not the substantial architectural elements of the Second Style. They are very attenuated. If you look at these–and I’ll show you a detail in a moment, they are, in fact, columns, we’ll see, with capitals at the top. But from a distance they don’t look like columns. They look like white stripes against a flat wall. They support lintels, as you can see here. These lintels don’t project–they’re just straight lintels, they’re not broken in any way–and they too are very delicate, and from a distance look like a stripe against the wall, not like a lintel. We can also see–and I think that having a detail will help you here. Yes, let me first show you a comparison between this wall in Caldarium 8 and the Second Style wall that we looked at just before. And I think you can see very clearly the differences here: the substantial columns in this case, the opening up of the wall as a window to something that lies beyond.
This is very different. Yes, there’s a blue sky. Yes, there’s a tree. But that scene is contained within a frame. I think I can also illustrate that better here by showing you a detail of that central panel. That central panel, by the way, represents not something that one would be likely to see outside the window of one’s house, but rather a mythological scene, which represents the legendary hero Hercules–you see him over here–Hercules, and in fact Hercules has just finished the last of his Twelve Labors, and he has brought back the Apples of the Hesperides, which you see sitting on a rock over here, and so he is celebrating the last of these Twelve Labors. For some reason he seems to be kind of a tree hugger here; he seems to be hugging the tree, a tree that has a yellow ribbon tied around it. We use today yellow–we tie yellow ribbons around things, for a variety of reasons, as we know. We don’t know exactly why the Romans did that, but we see that frequently in Roman wall painting. But here he is standing at the base of the tree, his labors completed, and that tree again is surrounded by blue sky.
But I think you can see that it is not a window into something that lies beyond, because the scene is contained within this frame, and what the artist has done is outlined the frame with a very black, dark black outline. Now whether this has anything to do with those old curtains that we talked about in the Second Style might be interesting to speculate. But it looks to us like it’s basically just a frame that is making it clear that this is flat, that what we are dealing with here is a flat wall, onto which a panel picture has been attached. It is hung – it seems to be hung on that flat wall; it is not meant as a window or a panorama into something else. Besides the black frame, you see there’s also a molded frame, very nicely painted here, and in this detail you can see that again what looked like stripes, white stripes on a flat wall from a distance, are indeed columns. You can see that they support capitals and a lintel up above, but from a distance again they don’t look that way. And they are columns and capitals very different from what we’ve seen before, because again they are very, very, very attenuated, very delicate. They don’t have any of the substance of the columns of the Second Style.
Look up above the panel picture of Hercules and you’ll see–and I have a better detail of this in a moment–a series of figures that are located in the yellow zone, and I can show them better to you perhaps here, where you’re looking also at a view of the socle. This side of the wall–you may have noticed this in the general view–is actually a niche; it’s actually a niche, a rectangular, fairly shallow, rectangular niche there. So the painting continues into that niche, which gives it a little sense of depth, a little more sense of depth than it would have otherwise. And above the niche is a soffit, which you can see is also painted, and I show you a detail of that soffit up above. If you look at what’s right above the painting of Hercules, you will see–and I’ll show you these in detail in a moment–a citharist; that is, a man who plays a cithara, who is seated there and is playing his instrument. On either side of him we see panel pictures, and then on top of those panel pictures peacocks, peacocks that are represented frontally and look out toward us. And if you look at both–and we’ll look at them in detail again momentarily–if you look at the citharist, and if you look at the peacocks, you see that they are standing on ground lines, but ground lines that don’t look like they have any depth; in fact, they’re standing somewhere where you couldn’t really stand, which is one of the interesting features of Third Style, again this desire to move and to respect the flatness of the wall. If we look at the soffit, we see that that too is painted in red and gold; that it is divided into a series of panels; that in those panels we see floating, mythological figures, a woman on a bull–I’ll show you a detail of her in a moment–just floating in the center. She doesn’t seem to be in any space at all, she’s just floating there. And then on either side a niche with a shell at the top, with standing figures, and then strangely enough pictures of still-life paintings, right below those.
Here are all of those details. Here we see the citharist, sitting again where there doesn’t seem to be–there is a maroon, a brown line here, but it doesn’t look like it occupies any space. So there’s this interesting tension between the flatness of the wall and the fact that there’s a figure that seems to be sitting somewhere where there’s no place to sit. The same with the peacocks. You can see them, this one standing on this white, flat line. His toes do seem to be projecting a bit over those. So there’s this interesting tension between what’s flat and what might have a hint of space. And then below that, one of these sacro-idyllic landscapes, again framed in black, making it clear that we are to read this as a panel picture hanging on a flat wall, a kind of picture gallery, in a way that’s very different from Second Style. Up here, a mysterious figure with a sacrificial dish, standing in a niche, with a shell decoration at the top. And then a still-life painting with fruit down below. And then up here, something that we’re going to see becomes ubiquitous in Third Style Roman wall painting: a figure that floats in the center of a colored panel, either red or black or white, in this case a mostly nude female figure who is riding, as you can see, on the back of a bull. At least the front of the animal is a bull, and you can see the back of the animal has a fishtail. So it’s a kind of bull-like sea creature, as you can see here.
Chapter 3. The Mature Third Style at Boscotrecase [00:23:00]
So this room, this very important room, Caldarium 8 in the Villa at Oplontis, seems to be a good example of this transition from Second Style, which was also in the house, to some new cycle of fashion in Roman painting. An example of the mature Third Style can be seen in two rooms, the Red Room and the Black Room, so called for obvious reasons–this is the Red Room–that belong to the Villa of Agrippa Postumus at Boscotrecase, that dates to around 11 B.C., we believe. This house we think also had Imperial connections; that is, we think that this house was put up in honor of the first emperor of Rome, Augustus’ only child, his daughter Julia. The marriage of Julia to Tiberius–T-i-b-e-r-i-u-s, the man who was to become the second emperor of Rome–the marriage of Julia to Tiberius may have been the occasion for the decoration of this house. It bears the name of one of Julia’s sons by a different man, by Marcus Agrippa, her son, her last son; his name was Agrippa Postumus, because he was born after–she was impregnated, obviously, by Agrippa before he died – but the child was actually born after the death of Agrippa. Hence his name Agrippa Postumus. There’s some speculation that he may have lived in this villa at some point.
But what’s important to us is the likelihood seems to be that, just as with the Villa at Oplontis, this villa seems to have been owned by someone in the imperial family. Which is very important because it suggests to us not only that the finest artists of the day must have been working on these, as they did in Rome for the House of Augustus, or in Primaporta for the Villa of Livia, but also leads me, at least, to speculate that it’s possible that these interesting transitions from Second to Third Style, and Third Style to Fourth Style, may have come at the behest of the artists who were these very high-level artists who were working in the imperial employ. It makes a certain amount of sense to speculate that that might have been the case. So here we have the Red Room of the Villa of Agrippa Postumus at Boscotrecase, and we can see some of the same features that we saw in Caldarium 8 of the Villa at Oplontis. We see once again that those substantial columns or that opening in the wall is gone, forever banished; in fact, the Romans never return to their quest after one-point perspective, for example. Respect for the integrity of the wall, the flatness of the wall, the wall as a surface to be decorated. We see that they have decorated it with a system of tiers: a black socle at the bottom, then a red central zone, and a red upper zone.
And, by the way, we can still get some sense that they have looked at earlier Second Style wall paintings, because if you look at the structure, the overall structure of this wall, for example, there still seems to be a central panel flanked by wings, this whole idea of regia and hospitalia that we talked about, that goes back to theater design. There’s certainly a hint of that still here in the general arrangement or formatting of the wall. But it is completely flat: black zone, red zone. And then, although we will see in detail that we have a column here, with a capital at the top, from a distance again it looks like a white stripe on a flat wall, and that’s deliberate on the part of the artists. Again here, there’s a panel in the center, but it is not a panel that serves as a window to what lies beyond. It is a panel that is meant to be just that, a panel. It’s meant to imitate perhaps a marble painted panel that would’ve actually hung on a wall in a house or villa like this, but depicting that here in paint. So it is meant to be–we are meant to see it as – a panel picture that hangs on a flat wall in the Red Room at Boscotrecase. We can see also some vegetal decoration–very, very delicate, doesn’t occupy space at all–decorates the flat wall above. So very similar to what we saw again in Caldarium 8.
Here’s a detail of the Red Room where we can see the sacro-idyllic landscape better. You can see that it follows in the line of other sacro-idyllic landscapes that we’ve seen. It has a shrine, in this case a column that supports an urn, at the top, with a tree; behind that some sort of wall with windows over here; and in this case a group of shepherds with their flocks and other figures possibly involved in some kind of ritual, located in and around the shrine. You can also see here extremely well in detail the way in which they have outlined this panel with a black frame, to make it very clear that this is contained within a frame. Beyond that, you can now see that this is a column, a very attenuated, very delicate column – more a colonnette we might call it, with a capital at the top. But it is meant here not to occupy any real space, not to project into the viewer’s space, but to serve as a second frame for the panel picture that is placed on the flat wall.
I think it’s instructive to compare this to what we saw in the Room of the Masks, House of Augustus, Palatine Hill, mature Second Style. So mature Second Style, commissioned by an imperial patron; mature Third Style, commissioned by, we think, an imperial patron. Both sacro-idyllic landscapes, with white backgrounds, but you can see the main difference here, not only the substantial architecture, but the fact that the white background continues behind the architecture. Right? It continues behind the architecture here, here, here, which gives us the sense again that this is something that’s a misty landscape of some sort, that one could, at least with one’s eye, but also perhaps oneself, could actually enter into and wander around; that’s the sense you get here. But here you are stopped from doing that. There’s nothing more here than a panel picture that hangs on a wall.
Now you might say to me that if we’re going back to respecting the wall and to having a painting that is fairly flat, that what–are we going back to the First Style of Roman wall painting? And I remind you of one of the First Style Roman wall paintings that we looked at together. But it really is very different from the First Style as well, because in the First Style, you’ll remember, the wall was not actually flat. The wall was built up as a relief, in a series of architectural zones, and then the individual blocks were painted different colors, to give an illusion, once again, that this was not a plain wall but rather a very exotic and expensive marble wall, with marbles brought from all over the world to decorate it. So an illusion of something that it wasn’t. Here in the Third Style we are again not dealing with any illusions really at all, but just a respect for the flatness of the wall, decorating that flat wall with a kind of wallpaper, through paint, and then putting on that flat wallpapered wall pictures, hanging pictures, just as we hang pictures on flat walls today.
The Villa at Boscotrecase also has a Black Room, so called because the main color there, the main background color there is, as you can see, black. It too is interesting–interesting in a somewhat different way – but is a quintessential example of mature Third Style Roman architectural painting. We see, once again, that the room has been divided into a center, a central area with wings, one on either side. We also see that it has been divided into painted zones: red at the bottom, black in the center, black also at the top. We can see that there are architectural members, although again they look, from a distance, like white stripes on a black wall. But if we get up close to them–and I’ll show you even some closer views in a moment–we will see that we are dealing with very, very, very, very attenuated colonnettes, with capitals at the top. And notice–and this has been true throughout–they decorate these columns also, all up and down, all along the way, with floral motifs and so on and so forth; which also underscores their function as a decorative motif, rather than an actual column. The column supports, the colonnettes support what looks like a very simple pediment. It’s just slightly peaked, as you can see up there. But there is one–this painting is interesting because if you look carefully at the frieze, at the uppermost part of the columns, or colonnettes, you will see that there is some hint of space there. Look at the way it undulates there: it recedes over here, recedes over there, and then it also meanders in the center. So there’s a slight hint, in this particular case, of some space, some recession into depth, which only adds to the intrigue and mystery of these incredible paintings.
These are very, very interesting in detail. I can show you here, for example, the swans. We see some swans–and remember these swans. This again seems to be an imperial house, because we will see swans are very important for the emperor Augustus, and he decorates the Ara Pacis in Rome, a great work of architecture and sculpture, with swans, that may make reference to a new golden age that he has ushered in. We see those here. But look at them, look at the way they rest on these little candelabra-like torches, and then those in turn on a spiraling acanthus tendril, that doesn’t look like it could support anything at all. How very strange, to have a swan supported by a tendril like this. This sort of thing couldn’t actually work, and it’s one of again the intrigues of the details of paintings such as these.
This is another interesting detail, because it shows again a kind of candelabrum supporting a panel picture, that we are meant to read as a panel picture on the wall. And if you look carefully, you can see the Egyptianizing motifs in that panel picture. There was an extreme Egyptomania that spread through Rome and Italy after Augustus was victorious over Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the famous Battle of Actium. Augustus initially used these Egyptianizing motifs to make political remarks about his victory over Cleopatra and Antony. But over time it became more a fashion, and we begin to see Egyptianizing motifs, not only in the homes of members of the imperial family, but even used ever more widely than that.
Another detail shows again that central area with the–now you can see that they are indeed colonnettes, with capitals at the top. You can also see there are a couple of medallions, that turn out to be medallions that have heads in them, over here. But here you can see how fanciful it gets; even though this is clearly a colonnette with a capital. What capital supports then, in usual building practice, supports on top of it a medallion with a head, and then another curlicue on top of that, and that supports the pediments, and that has on the edge this very decorative motif, dripping off the side? There’s no–this is fantastic in that regard; fantastic, and they’re clearly having fun with these details and with using these wonderful details – this dropped element over here, for example. The images are interesting; the heads are interesting. Many scholars have believed that they’re representations of gods, like Apollo, but a couple of scholars have put forward the idea, and I find it a very attractive one, that we may actually have–there are two of them–we may actually have a portrait of Julia, whose marriage may have been commemorated here, and of her step-mother Livia, the empress of Rome, during the age of Augustus.
Most interesting of all is the small sacro-idyllic landscape that floats in the center of the panel. Again in Third Style Roman wall painting we either tend to have painted panels in the center with frames, as we’ve seen thus far, or floating elements in the center. They could be a floating woman on the back of a bull/sea creature, or they can be a sacro-idyllic landscape, as we see here. And here’s another detail where we can blow up that sacro-idyllic landscape and see again that it is just the sort of sacred and idyllic landscape we’ve seen before, with a shrine; the top of a column; a building over here; trees, a tree in the center, other trees; and then various sacrificial goings on in front of that. But from a distance again it just looks like some sort of object floating in the center of a very large, black, flat wall: one decorative motif among many.
Chapter 4. A Third Style Garden and Fabullus Paints the Domus Aurea in Rome [00:37:26]
We looked last time at the magnificent paintings in the Villa of Livia at Primaporta, and we talked about the fact that that was the quintessential Second Style wall, because more than any other we saw it was truly the wall as panorama, as a vista into something that might lie beyond, and we described in great detail the features of this particular painting. It’s interesting that you wouldn’t think that a gardenscape would be a good subject for Third Style Roman wall painting, a kind of painting that again respects the flatness of a wall, and yet we do have examples of what we would term Third Style Roman wall painting, showing the depiction of a gardenscape. And I turn to that now. The painting that you look at is on the wall of the House of the Orchard, the Casa del Frutteto, in Pompeii, in the so-called Orchard Cubiculum, and it dates to A.D. 25 to A.D. 50; so considerably later. And it’s interesting, by the way, to note the chronology here. Third Style Roman wall painting has a quite long life, because if we talk about it being used already in 20 to 10 B.C. at Oplontis, and we’re now looking at a house that could be as late as 50, might’ve been decorated as late as 50 A.D., that takes us sixty or seventy years for this one style. So although I said these are cycles of fashion, fashion wasn’t changing all that quickly at this particular juncture.
But here we see a gardenscape in what we would call a Third Style wall. Now why do we call this a Third Style wall? It’s divided into zones. We have a black socle down here. We have a zone here, which seems to show a fence, a more substantial fence than we saw in the gardenscape of Livia. It does seem to support some marble vessels or vases here. So you might–to look at the bottom you think, “Well. maybe there is some suggestion of some space.” In fact, if you look very carefully at the gateway of the fence, you can see that there is some attempt to represent it as if it recedes into depth, at least the doorway. So there’s some attempt at that here. But if you look at this zone, I think you’ll agree with me that the artists have once again, the painters have once again, respected the flatness of the wall. Yes, there are columns here, but they are not substantial columns. They are attenuated columns, maybe not as attenuated as Boscotrecase, but attenuated nonetheless. They do have capitals at the top. But as you walk into this room and look at them from a distance, they look like gold stripes on a flat back wall. And, in fact, the fact that the wall was painted black is very significant, and not blue, as we saw in the gardenscape of Livia at Primaporta.
And look also–what’s particularly interesting is the way in which the artist has positioned the trees within the frames of the columns. If you look very closely you will see that there isn’t a single leaf that either overlaps the columns, or that disappears behind the columns. They are completely contained within those columns. They are represented very abstractly, very flat. And so, because they are contained within those, we get the impression, not that we’re looking at a gardenscape that is somehow viewed through a window behind the columns, but it’s almost as if we’re looking at a Japanese screen or something like that. It’s a flat surface that has been decorated with depictions of trees, not a view to look at trees that lie behind these columns. It’s very–it’s really fascinatingly done, I think.
And if we look at a detail of the wall in the Casa del Frutteto over here, and of a tree, and a detail of a tree from Livia’s Villa at Primaporta, I think we again see the differences between the two: blue background, which gives us a sense of reality here; mountains in the background, as you’ll remember; a black background here, gives a very different effect. Here we talked about how the artist was a particularly good observer of nature: had really gone out and looked at real trees; had looked at the way in which leaves rustled in the breeze; had looked at the way in which again light falls differently on leaves–it can bathe them in light or it can bathe them in shadow. We looked at the very realistic way in which the artist depicted the birds who are in flight and then alight on a leaf or a branch of the tree.
Look at the difference here. The leaves are beautifully rendered, beautifully rendered, but they are all rendered essentially the same. You don’t have the same sense of the difference of light and shadow; you don’t have the same sense–these seem immutable, not as if they could be ruffled by the breeze at all, immutable shapes. And look at the difference in the bird, who himself, or herself, seems to be a shape against a black background. You don’t get the sense–there’s no sense of movement, as you see, of the birds, as you see at the Villa of Livia at Primaporta. The bird is one shape among many shapes. The sinuous snake that makes its way up the tree has–you have some sense again of–they’re sort of teasing us here–there’s some sense of depth, because as it slithers all along here, you get the sense that it is intertwining itself with the trunk of the tree, so that maybe there’s a hint of some depth and some motion there. So there’s this interesting play, I think, that the artist has created here. But on the whole this again is a painting that clearly respects all the tenets that have come to be, from the point of view of these artists Third Style Roman wall painting, even for a subject as unlikely for this as a gardenscape.
We have talked about Third Style Roman wall painting in Campania. We have talked about the fact that a lot of it seems to be connected in some way to members of the imperial household. And we see the same also in Rome, and it’s to Rome that I would now like to turn, and specifically to the Golden House or the Domus Aurea of the emperor Nero. I show you a view of the famous octagonal room of Nero’s Domus Aurea. It is one of the greatest rooms in Roman architecture. It’s an octagonal room that has a large oculus. It is made out of concrete. It has radiating alcoves, and it is in a sense a grandiose version of the frigidarium that we saw in the Stabian and Forum Baths at Pompeii. It is part of a very major architectural revolution under Nero. It is extremely important. We’ll talk about it in great detail, vis-à-vis the architecture, in a later lecture. But I do want to bring up–just contextually it works better for me to talk about the paintings separately, and the paintings in connection to paintings in Pompeii. And it’s to those paintings that I’m going to turn now, the paintings in Nero’s Domus Aurea, that we will see are both Third and also Fourth Style Roman paintings. So once again we seem to be in a situation where we are looking at a palace, in this case, commissioned by an imperial patron, in which it looks like there was an important transition from one Roman wall painting decoration style, to another, in this case the Third Style to the Fourth Style.
The Domus Aurea paintings are important for three major reasons. The first reason is we can date them exactly. We know that these paintings, both of the Third and the Fourth Styles, were done in the Domus Aurea, between 64 A.D. and 68 A.D. We also know, and we know this very rarely, the name of the painter who was responsible for the Third and Fourth Style paintings in the Domus Aurea. His name is one you will, I hope–you will; not hope, I know you will never forget, because his name was Fabullus, F-a-b-u-l-l-u-s, Fabullus; and he was indeed, as you shall see, truly fabulous. Fabullus is known from–we know him from the writings of Pliny, P-l-i-n-y; many of you have probably read the writings of Pliny, tells us a lot about art, ancient art. And Pliny tells us that Fabullus was the painter for the Domus Aurea, in Rome, and he tells us a couple of other interesting tidbits about Fabullus. He tells us that Fabullus always used to paint in a toga. Now painting in a toga is like painting in a three-piece suit today. You wouldn’t paint in a–painting in a toga, it makes no sense to paint in a toga. But he obviously–whether he really painted in a toga we don’t know, but that was his reputation, which means he dressed up for the event, took it very seriously.
We also know from Pliny that, or Pliny tells us that the Domus Aurea was Fabullus’ prison. Why was it Fabullus’ prison? It was Fabullus’ prison because any of you who have visited the Domus Aurea–and those of you who haven’t, I hope you will, when you’re in Rome, because it’s an extraordinary place to see–will see that it is corridor, after corridor, after corridor, after corridor, and we only have today a very small piece of the Domus Aurea preserved. So if Fabullus’ job was to paint all of the walls and all of the ceilings of the Domus Aurea, it would have indeed taken a lifetime, it would have indeed served as a kind of prison for him. I suppose a later–it might be interesting to think of him in connection to–he was not as great as, but he was, in a sense, the Michelangelo of his time; think about Michelangelo and the Sistine Ceiling and all the time that he devoted to painting that extraordinary space, also in Rome.
I show you a couple of views of the corridors. I’m not going to go into detail now on exactly why this is the case, but the Domus Aurea is now underground, it’s subterranean. It was razed to the ground and covered over in part by a later Roman emperor that we’ll talk about in the future. So when you visit it today, you need to go underground. It was buried for a long time and rediscovered in the Renaissance. And it’s interesting because we know that the famous painter Raphael, the famous Renaissance painter Raphael, went underground and was one of the first to see the paintings of the Domus Aurea, because Raphael left a graffito on the wall, which basically says, “Raphael was here.” And we’re fortunate that he left that, because it tells us again that he was here. And we’re not surprised because this is a loggetta in the Vatican today that was designed by–it was painted by Raphael. And you can see how much the paintings of the Domus Aurea–more weathered, obviously, than the one on the left–but the paintings of the Domus Aurea had a huge impact on Raphael.
I’m going to show you three rooms in the Domus Aurea. The first is the–and I’m sorry I have to show this to you in black and white; it’s the only–it was very hard to photograph there, and it’s the only image I happen to have of this wall. But I am showing you a room called the Sala degli Uccelletti, which means the Room of the Birds, and like the other paintings I’m going to show you today, it dates to 64 to 68 A.D. You can see that this is a Third Style Roman wall painting. It partakes of all the features that we’ve already described for Third Style Roman wall painting. It has a flat wall, as you can see here. It’s not painted red or black, but in this case white, which makes it even more delicate looking, but they have definitely observed the integrity of the wall and painted it white. You can also see that the architectural members that there are, are very attenuated and look like stripes on the wall from a distance. You can see that some of the frames are vegetal or floral: very delicate, as you can see here. And then in the central panels–and it’s the reason that it’s called the Sala degli Uccelletti–we have little birds, and those little birds float in the center of these panels: once again a decorative motif, among many. So the flatness of the wall observed, a wall that is flat, and to be decorated by the painter. So that’s the Sala degli Uccelletti: Third Style.
This is a vault in the Domus Aurea, which is useful for us, because here we can get a better sense of the color. Once again the background is white, and once again the integrity of the wall has been respected. The artist has divided that wall into a series of panels, but within those panels we see once again sea creatures, in this case floating in the center of those framed panels. We are meant to read them as framed panels, not as views into some other world. Note also that some of the frames are done with vegetal and floral motifs: very, very delicate, very attractive, very ephemeral in a sense, very lightweight against that white background. So very much again another example of Third Style Roman wall painting.
But then there is this room, and this room is Room 78, and Room 78 is extremely important for us, because we see something else is happening in Room 78. Yes, it does still have a white wall. Yes, it does still use a floral decoration for some of the frames. Yes, it does have framed panels, in this case not with black but with red frames, as you can see here: all elements of the Third Style, absolutely. So it partakes of a number of Third Style elements. The white wall itself is a very Third Style thing to do. But you will notice, of course, that something new has happened here, and that is more substantial architecture has been–the representation of more substantial architecture–has been reintroduced. If you look at these architectural elements that frame some of the panels, you will see that we see once again real columns, real columns that seem to support projecting lintels, and then through those–once again a white background in this case–but through those we see other elements of architecture. Here a two-storied columnar monument, and over here what seems to be a broken triangular pediment, supported by substantial columns.
So architecture is – substantial architecture is reintroduced in the central zone, flanking the panels on either side. But it is a different architecture than we’ve ever seen before, because we never see a complete building. We see only fragments of buildings–this broken triangular pediment on its own is an example of that–fragments of buildings, which we will see are depicted in what I would describe as illogical space. They don’t look like they’re actually occupying space, the way a regular building would, or in what is characteristic of the Second Style, but fragments of buildings depicted in illogical space.
And then, very important, in the uppermost zone, we see a depiction of a number of these fragments of architecture, all jumbled together, almost to create a building; although it isn’t a building that actually works. I like to call these architectural cages, because they are individual elements, individual fragments, again that are grouped together, architectural cages, that often have in them very strange mythological and other creatures, most of whom are very difficult to identify today. So we see this incredible transition between the Third Style Roman wall painting, that Fabullus is using for the Domus Aurea, to something that is transitioning us into what we call the Fourth Style. In fact, I would call this room a Fourth Style Roman room, a Fourth Style painted room, and the genius behind this I would speculate was Fabullus himself.
Chapter 5. Fourth Style Eclecticism and Display in Pompeii [00:55:11]
I want to show you another example of Fourth Style, because we believe Fourth Style–remember the date of the Domus Aureus, 64 to 68. So if it is being–if it is coming to the fore, the Fourth Style at that time, it means that it is about the time of the earthquake in Pompeii. And we do see paintings in Pompeii that we believe date between the earthquake of 62 and the eruption of Vesuvius of 79 that are examples also of Fourth Style Roman wall painting. This is one of them. It’s a wall from the House of the Vestals in Pompeii. It dates to 62 to 70 A.D., and we can see exactly what I was describing at the Domus Aurea. We look at the bottom part and we see that it still looks like a Third Style wall, in that we see golden panels and red panels with floating figures in the center, and with floral decorations around those. We see over here a mythological panel with a black frame around it that is meant to look like a panel picture hanging on a flat wall. All of that is exactly what we saw in the Third Style.
But again what separates this from a Third Style painting is this reintroduction of architecture, over here–architecture presented against a white background–but it’s not a full building, it is a fragment of a building, a fragment of a building with substantial architectural members and a projecting entablature above. And then in the upper zone, again against a white background, those architectural cages, those fragments of architecture that have been jumbled together and are used as a milieu for these very strange creatures–animal, human and the like–that are located in them, these architectural cages that are also decorated with strange and interesting ornamentation at the uppermost part. So another example of Fourth Style.
Our very best examples of Fourth Style Roman wall painting all come from a single house in Pompeii. It is a house that we looked at together before. It is the House of the Vettii. You’ll remember the kitchen in the House of the Vettii, for example, the wonderful garden that we explored there. It is also a house that has an incredible array of paintings, and it shows us several stages of the Fourth Style. And I should mention also that while we call these styles First, Second, Third, and Fourth, as anything else, they have substyles and transition periods; one can refer to Early Second Style, mature Second Style, Late Second Style, Early Third Style–there are certain subtleties. Because again, remember, the artists who were making these were not thinking, “Oh, I’m transitioning from the Second to the Third Style.” They were just moving on. They were experimenting with things they hadn’t experimented before, and they soon found themselves in a different milieu. So there are those subtleties. And we can see those in the House of the Vettii. I can show you Early, Middle and even Late Fourth Style at the House of the Vettii, which is just what I’m going to do now.
We’re going to begin with Garden Room Q, which is the one that you see here; which you can see, from the Monument List, we believe dates to 62 to 70 A.D.; Garden Room Q. Now if all of Garden Room Q that was preserved, was the bottom part–if you didn’t have that very top zone, and I asked you what style is this? You would probably tell me Third Style, and you’d be right that it was Third Style. But the addition of that zone in the uppermost part gives it away, as a Fourth Style wall. But it’s again a very good example of an early one, because we can see this transition. So in the bottom, again very much adhering to the tenets of Third Style Roman wall painting: respecting the flatness of the wall; dividing the wall into a series of zones; a socle that’s black; a main section that’s red; sort of wings on either side that are also black. But as you look at this wall from a distance, those black elements look like stripes, large black stripes on the wall, and even within those black stripes we see these very attenuated, delicate colonnettes. Close up you can see that they’re colonnettes, but from a distance again they look like gold stripes on a flat wall. Floating mythological figures in the center, as is characteristic of the Third Style, and then there was a panel painting over here that was rudely removed by treasure hunters at one point. So panel pictures, as well as floating mythological figures. And then at the uppermost part you see this addition: white ground, architectural cages, as I’ve described them, with a whole panoply of interesting mythological and other figures that are inserted into those architectural cages. So a very early example of Fourth Style Roman wall painting in the House of the Vettii in Rome [correction: Pompeii].
These again are so interesting in detail. If you blow this up to the size that we see it here, you will see that this is that black background in between the red panels that we were looking at before. You can see all kinds of strange things going on here in detail. A female figure, semi-naked. She’s clashing her cymbals. She’s dancing here, and she is supporting, on her head–she’s oblivious to the fact that she’s supporting on her head – the base of one of these colonnettes; as you can see here, pays no heed whatsoever that she’s serving as a support for the colonnettes. And then either side of her what we call herms, h-e-r-m-s, which are part human and part pedestal, male heads, bearded male heads carrying libation dishes, or whatever, on either side, and then a very interesting sacrifice scene down here. So again, as I’ve said so many times, looking at these paintings, the details of these paintings, is a very intriguing experience.
The room that seems to be a good example of the mid-Fourth Style is the House of the Vettii, Room of Pentheus, which we date to around 70 A.D. You see it here. It is very well-preserved. It is a room in which the color gold abounds. As you can see, a maroon socle, the gold central zone. It partakes of Third Style in that you can see that the main parts of the wall are flat, with a panel, a mythological panel picture that is surrounded by a frame – so just to make absolutely sure that the viewer understands that what they are looking at here is a panel picture that hangs on a flat wall, not a window into something that lies beyond. But we see in this central zone the reintroduction of architecture, substantial architecture, where you can really make out the columns and the pediments, but not full buildings, fragments of buildings: fragments of buildings that are represented in very illogical space, as you can see here. Again, substantial elements like this, with the supporting the columns, supporting the lintel with the coffered ceiling, represented in perspective. So all of that brought back. But again these are not full buildings, as we would see in the Second Style, but these fragments in illogical space.
And a detail again of the same, that I just described, and it’s interesting to compare it to some details from Second Style Roman wall painting. Think Fannius Sinistor or the Metropolitan Museum Cubiculum, where you can actually – you really have a sense of what this building was. There’s a doorway that leads in, and then there are a series of tiers, and there’s a balcony, and everything connects to one another. But here we see something quite different, where we see not a whole building, or parts of a building together, but rather these individual pieces that are depicted, as I mentioned, in a very illogical way.
The glory of Fourth Style Roman wall painting–it depends on your taste, because it’s very gaudy as well–but one could say that the greatest preserved or–the most interesting, let’s put it that way–the most interesting preserved Fourth Style wall is also in the House of the Vettii. It is in the Ixion Room of the House of the Vettii. We believe it dates to 70 to 79. It is our, an example of full-blown Fourth Style, at its most incredible. And it’s almost as if this artist wanted to be remembered for posterity–we don’t know his name unfortunately–but remembered for posterity as the person who created the textbook example of Fourth Style Roman wall painting. And what’s fascinating about it is what he has done is he has mixed together all of the earlier styles: First, Second, Third, Fourth.
First we see the socle down here is–it’s all done in paint, but it is painted to represent marble or to imitate marble incrustation, just as we saw in the First Style. So the marble incrustation of the First Style, used for the socle, but again in paint, not in relief. The Second tier we see the substantial columns supporting lintels and entablatures with coffered ceilings, represented in depth; that’s a Second Style element. Third Style, these panels, red with mythological paintings in the center, with frames, and over here a white panel with floral decoration and floating mythological figures; those are elements of the Third Style. And the Fourth Style, reintroduction of architecture in the central zone, fragments of architecture, not full buildings, fragments of architecture depicted in illogical space. And then in the uppermost tier, these architectural cages, peopled with all kinds of strange figures, animals, divinities, personifications, and the like. So all of those four styles brought together in one place.
Here’s another view, one that perhaps gives you an even better sense, not of everything I’ve described, but of the overall appearance of this room as one walks into it. It’s actually a very small room, but it gives you the sense of grandiosity. And this is interesting too because you see in this case the artist has kind of matched up – he’s represented two very similar fragments, one on either side, that in a sense, as you stare at it, gives you the sense, or at least gives me the sense, that perhaps maybe there is something that continues behind the wall or behind the central mythological panel picture that you see here. But this is quintessential, quintessential Fourth Style Roman wall painting. And I think I had–I meant to show you also one more detail here, where you can see again–here you can see one of these elements with the fragments of architecture, an illogical space in detail, and you can see even here too there are strange things going on. We see masks reintroduced in the Fourth Style. We see in this case that mask is supported by a panel picture that represents a curved staff, an animal, some baskets on top of a table. You try to interpret exactly what all this meant. But it’s interesting how much detail is put into these. Even though each of these individual items are difficult to see, when you walk into a room like this, you tend to look at the whole, not at the individual details, and yet the artists, patrons and so on have paid a great deal of attention to that detail.
Chapter 6. Scenographic Painting in Herculaneum [01:07:36]
I want to show you lastly, and thought we could talk about this for a few minutes ourselves together, one last Fourth Style, or part of a Fourth Style Roman wall painting. It is a fragmentary wall that we attribute to the Fourth Style that came from Herculaneum, and dates also to this latest phase, sometime to 70 to 79. And it’s quite interesting, in view not only of what we’ve discussed today, but in everything we’ve talked about with regard to the four styles of Roman wall painting in the last week or so. I wondered what part of the wall you think this came from, and what you find interesting about it, vis-à-vis our general discussion of Roman wall painting. Someone like to volunteer to begin? Yes?
Student: This may be off, but one thing I noticed was it looks like curtains up on the top right-hand–
Professor Diana E.E. Kleiner: Yes.
Professor Diana E.E. Kleiner: Yes. Yes, we’ve been debating this whole question of the black curtains, and there’s a post now online, and I hope that you’ll all add to that, as we continue that conversation. This one, in this particular case, it seems incontrovertible that what is represented here is a curtain. There’s no question that’s a curtain. It’s hanging up there. So we get the sense that it has been raised on what is a kind of a stage set that lies behind. So, great point. What else strikes you about this? Yes?
Student: Based on the perspective, wouldn’t this be like a flanking panel to maybe the central one?
Professor Diana E.E. Kleiner: Yes, based on the perspective that’s used here, based on the fact that there’s a white background–which isn’t always the case in Fourth Style painting, but it tends to be the case, for most of it–one could speculate that this is either one of those elements that has been reintroduced in the main zone, on either side of the central panel, or–what else might it be? Yes?
Student: The illogical space on the right.
Professor Diana E.E. Kleiner: Right, the illogical–part of a building in illogical space. But it might be in the central zone, as one of those side wings, but it might also be way up in the top, as one of the architectural cages that we see in the uppermost part; that’s also possible. So what is being depicted here? Obviously a stage set of some sort. How would you describe this architecture in the foreground? You all know. Just state the obvious. It looks like, why? It looks like Second Style because–?
Student: It’s projecting the–it’s substantial. It’s in perspective and it’s projecting out.
Professor Diana E.E Kleiner: Good. We have substantial architectural elements. It’s clear that these are real columns with real capitals at the top. Those capitals project into our space. The artist has made an effort to depict recession into space, as well, because you can see the way in which these piers are angled, for example, back, to give one the sense that we are looking at something depicted in space. You can see the coffered ceiling up here, the projecting entablatures, the mask, which is another reference to things theatrical. But is there one-point perspective here? Or is there any attempt to depict one-point perspective? Or is it some other kind of perspective, and if so, what kind of perspective? What kind of perspective? No one knows? Yes?
Professor Diana E.E. Kleiner: No. What?
Professor Diana E.E. Kleiner: Yes, but it’s more like atmospheric perspective? No? Disagree? Atmospheric perspective, so that again what’s in the foreground is the outlines are firm; what’s in the background is very, very fuzzy, and gets fuzzier and fuzzier. Let me show you a detail of this. If you blow it up, you can see–try to count–I don’t know if you’re counting at all–but if you try to count the zones of space here, you’d go berserk. Clearly they are trying to conjure up space, something that perhaps recedes, but it seems to be done by means of atmospheric perspective, where the objects in the foreground are represented with the firmest outlines, and those in the background with the fuzziest outlines, as you can see here. If you blow it up, you can see that the details are incredible. You can see the decoration in the friezes. You can see some of the figural decoration: the capitals and so on and so forth. But it is lost in this–it is lost in something of a haze, as you can see here.
So it’s a very good example of Fourth Style Roman wall painting. As has been suggested, it is a piece of the wall. It could be one of the wings. It could be in the uppermost zone. It certainly makes reference to things theatrical. It certainly conjures up in some ways Second Style. But it is clearly an example of Fourth. And again I’m glad that the issue of the curtains was raised, because I think that’s a particularly interesting one. And because here we can really see a full-bodied curtain, I think it will help to add to the speculation that is already going on, in the online forum, and about which I hope we can continue to engage, in the days ahead. We will have one last lecture on Roman painting, on Thursday, which is entitled “Special Subjects,” and I’m going to deal there with everything I haven’t dealt with in the four styles. And then we are going to get back fully to architecture. We’ll go to Rome and we’ll begin to look at the architecture under the emperors Augustus and so on. Thanks.
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