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Pompei, 79 d.C.

Pompei, 79 d.C.

A cloud rose high, and was of such shape and appearance that it could not be compared to any tree better than to a pine tree. In fact, standing up as if on a very high trunk, it then widened into a kind of branching ...

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Day trip back in time - from Rome to Pompeii

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Pompeii

The walls of the houses in Pompeii are frequently covered with inscriptions: these are electoral propaganda messages which urge the citizens to vote for one or other of the candidates. At times an entire category of workers (goldsmiths, marble-cutters, bakers, blacksmiths) holds the candidacy. At other times an aspiring magistrate puts himself forward to the people for a particular office. They are written in red or in black and for the most part in capital letters. They were executed by the professional scribes who also dealt with official communications, the sentences of the tribunal, the buying and selling of slaves and public decisions. There are around three thousand electoral inscriptions in Pompeii and most of them can be dated to the city's final year of existence, given that it was customary to rub out the old inscriptions to make way for new ones. The graffiti, on the other hand, are the messages which were made by scratching on the walls of the houses: these relate to the most disparate subjects and paint an extremely vivid and frank picture of contemporary social life: they include risque jokes, comments on a particular person or event, caricatures of famous people, reflections on love, as well as appreciative remarks about a beautiful woman or the pleasure experienced in the privacy of one of the rooms in the brothel. In addition there are several which are concerned with the buying and selling of materials or livestock and the calculation of merchandise. Many refer to the entertainments on offer in the city or are in praise of the champions put to the test in the gladiatorial games.


Electoral inscription Now hosed in Archeological Museum of NaplesElectoral inscription

Originally part of a wall along "a street which led from the gate towards the town", that is to say Via Consolare, the plasterwork features an exhortation to vote for two candidates for aedile, M. Cerrinius Vatia and A. Trebius Valente. We come across the latter, who was elected in 71 A.D., again in 75 A.D. as candidate for the duumvirate. Other similar electoral messages with the same two candidates' names were found along Via del Foro.

PolycletosThe sculptures which have survived show that in Pompeii there was a preference for statues of a small size, given that they were designed for ornamental purposes, to be incorporated into rooms and gardens, to embellish fountains, atria or tablinia. The large statues, those that is which had a commemorative function, were for the most part situated in the Forum. The favoured material was bronze, although there are plenty of small masterpieces in marble, tuff and terracotta. "The dancing Faun", the "Drunken Silenus" and the "Wild boar under attack" are some of the pieces which combine with the freshness and immediacy of their design an exquisite workmanship. A special mention should be given to the "Doryphorus", a beautiful copy of a splendid Greek sculpture. There are various fragments of statues originating for the most part from the area of the Forum and from the temples dedicated to the Capitoline Triad.

The "Alexander mosaic" at the Battle of Issus,Mosaic ornamentation was widely used in the decoration of the houses in Pompeii and saw various stages of development. The oldest examples are works executed with simple motifs, using tesserae of rough workmanship and of modest material; those of subsequent epochs, on the other hand, show refinement in their composition, in their taste in colour and in the preciousness of the tesserae used. In the first period the works are characterized by the repetition of simple geometric motifs or they repeat the pictorial patterns of the second, third and fourth phases. Mosaics were often used as flooring. There are some admirable examples: the famous "cave canem" placed at the entrance to many houses is perhaps the best-known among the many which have survived. The panel depicting "The Battle of Alexander" housed in the Archaeological Museum in Naples and originating from the House of the Faun, is, though, one of the most important and magnificent examples.



Birds on a basin with panther, Now hosed in Archeological Museum of NaplesThis emblem, found in 1855 in S. Maria Capua Vetere (the modern name for ancient Capua), is a variation of the renowned Sosos mosaic from Pergamum of which we are reminded by Pliny (Nat.Hist.XXXVI, 184) on account of the admirable rendering given to the reflection in the waters of the basin of a dove that is perched on the edge waiting to drink. Mosaic copies of the original from Pergamum, granted that the one found in Villa Adriana might actually be the Sosos work itself, have been found at Delos, Pompeii (VIII 2, 34; this is the liveliest both for the number of doves that have been depicted and for the fact that one of them is still flying), Ostia and Rabat, not to mention the more than thirty-six garden-painting variations that have been enumerated so far.
The basin is low-footed, hemispherical and in gilded bronze. In other less faithful versions, the legs are higher and may be lion-pawed or sheep-toed. Perched on the edge are two parrots of slightly different plumage and a columba livia with its head bowed towards the water upon which there floats a small leaf. The recipient is supported by a high cubic base near which we can see a pomegranate and a feline beast, all details added on by the Campanian mosaic-worker.
The insertion into the original plan of what was for the Greeks (and even more so for the Romans) such an exotic species of birds as the parrot, is especially interesting. It acts as a sort of point of indirect contact with the Eastern world, which had been established in a more long-lasting fashion by Alexander the Great's Indian campaign. The lack of precision in the painting of the plumage, in which we can see characteristics of different species all mixed up, seems to confirm lack of direct knowledge of these birds, and the absence of any pictorial model upon which the copy-artist might have based his work.
Another interesting element which helps us understand the manner in which Roman age copy-artists worked is the cat. It is not only quite out of proportion with respect to the birds and the pomegranate, but its shadow lies towards the right, as if the scene was illuminated by light from the left side, despite the fact the this detail is not supported in other areas of the composition; this is another clear sign that the picture has been put together, almost mechanically, from as number of different cartoon features.

Portrait of Terentius Neo and his wife,  (Naples National Archaeological Museum)

Before the discovery of Pompeii, information about Roman painting was scarce and fragmentary with rare examples limited to fragments of frescos found in isolated cases. The discovery of the city, with its rich pictorial heritage, has, however, allowed for a new debate to be opened on the whole issue of Roman art. On the basis of the studies carried out and the classification made by Vitruvio, the paintings are usually divided into 4 styles:

Primo stile Secondo stile Terzo stile Quarto stile
I style II style III style IV style


1 style: known as "incrustation" or "structural" style. It was commonplace between the 2nd century and the middle of the 1st century B.C. It is a simple and bare style of painting: through the use of plaster and colours in which black, yellow and red predominate, it tends to imitate marble panels. II style: it lasted until the middle of the Ist century A.D. It is known as architecture in perspective or simply architectural since, as well as faking marble facings, it reproduces colonnades, arches and buildings seen in perspective. The result is an imaginary space with increasing or decreasing effects. The great cycle of the Mysteries in the villa of the same name belongs to this period. At its most advanced stage, glimpses of the countryside are painted between the imaginary buildings. III style: is called "real painting" and belongs to the Ist century A.D. It sees a return to a simpler style in terms of the layout and stroke. The background becomes flat and is rendered with a single colour: the figures are embellished and the decorative elements
accentuated. The painting of the III style is also known as "Egyptianizing" in that the ornamentation often recalls ancient Egyptian motifs.
IV style: is known as "architectural illusionism" or "ornamental". Its characteristics recall the painting of the second period, but the composition becomes increasingly exaggerated and unreal. It almost seems as if there was an attempt to extend the walls through the creation of imaginary spaces. The decoration becomes, so to speak, baroquesque: the houses are filled with stuccos and overloaded with ornamentation, usually in demonstration of the opulent state achieved by the resident families. Friezes and festoons are abandoned.

Colours used in Pompei

117338 - Traces of ceuleum, the light-blue colour of mineral origin, also know as Pompeian Blue or Alexandrian Frit, utilised for wall-paintings. It came in irregular-shaped powdery pieces.

112228 - Large blobs of white colour made up of calcareous clay and remains of fossils were known as Attioru, the genitive name of the manufacturers, the Atii, whose shop was on the corner of Insula 2 of Regio IX, and which opened onto the busy Via di Stabia. This shop, which was explored in August of 1851 yielded remains of colour pigment, including white, pale and dark yellow.

112251 - Bits and pieces of rubrica, that is to say red ochre based on ferrous oxides and hematite, leaving stains on contact.

112265 - sandyx or syricum was a reddish colour artificially obtained from the calcification of yellow ochre (cerussa usta) and based on red lead oxide mixed with rubrica.

112257 - Yellow colour: According to Vitruvius (VII, 7) sil atticum was superior to any yellow ochre and was used extensively in the building trade.

117365 - Violet or purpurissum was a lacquer of animal origins extracted from the murex shells, and was used above all for cosmetics. It was produced in small cubes.

Bibliography: S. Augusti, I colori pompeiani, Roma 1967

Amphitheatre of Pompeii

It is presumed that the amphitheatre in Pompeii, the oldest known to us, must have provided the basic model for the subsequent buildings. The form derives from the duplication of the structure of the theatre (amphitheatre means "double theatre" or "circular theatre"): it is an elliptical structure situated in a depression in the ground and backing onto embankments. It consists of a large cavea around which are the steps, divided into sections, which cover the entire perimeter of the construction. The various sections of the cavea - ima cavea (low part), media cavea, (middle part) and summa cavea (upper part) - were intended for the various social classes: the seats in the lower central area were reserved for dignitaries, while those high up were for the plebeians. It was furnished with accessways to the seats as well as with entrances to the cavea. The amphitheatres were sometimes equipped with a velarium (a large canopy which was stretched over the amphitheatre in case of rain) and, in the more developed types, with a system of canals and bulkheads which allowed the cavea to be flooded so that naval battles could be staged.


AMPHITHEATRE
This is an impressive and grandiose construction, capable of holding up to 12,000 spectators (others have calculated 20,000). It hosted all the circus shows and the gladiatorial games so dear to the Pompeians, who devoted most of their spare time to these performances. The period of its construction dates back to 80 B.C. (it was commissioned by the magistrates Quintus Valgus and Marcus Porciusl and is therefore one of the oldest buildings in existence, which leads to the inference that it might have represented a model for all those which were subsequently built in Rome. It was constructed in part by making use of an embankment, in part by digging down into the earth for several metres. The access steps are outside the building. The doors on the western side lead into the arena.
Unlike the other Roman amphitheatres, the one in Pompeii does not have an underground section. It was equipped with a velarium, that is a cover which was stretched over the complex in case of rain: the rings to which the canopy was fixed can still be seen.

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