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OUTLINE FOR ROMAN IMPERIAL ART II: PAINTING AND ARCHITECTURE (Copyright 2009 - John F. Kenfield) PAINTING: Unlike the Greeks who practiced monumental painting on plaster covered wooden panels, Roman wall painting (like Minoan wall painting) is often executed in true buon fresco , using water based paints applied to the wet wall plaster and thereby bonding with it. The most complete series of Roman painted walls, dating from the Late Republic into the early years of the Flavian dynasty (69-96 A.D.), are found in the beach resort towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum on the Bay of Naples, both towns covered by volcanic ash during the famous eruption of the volcano, Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Contemporary paintings survive more sporadically from continuously inhabited Rome, but show that painting there developed contemporaneously and in the same manner as in Campania. The painting in Rome is, however, often of higher quality, as might be expected in the capital and financial center of the Empire. Roman painting developed four styles prior to the 79 A.D. These styles developed sequentially, but, once developed, coexisted, i.e. many houses have different rooms painted in one of all four styles. Literary testimonia , the few surviving original Greek paintings, and even the mythological subject matter of much Roman painting suggest that it by and large copies Greek originals. The First Style is sometimes called the Encrustation Style and can be illustrated by a wall in the House of the Samnite at Herculaneum, late 2 nd cent. B.C. (website images) . When the plaster of the wall was still wet, molds were used to divide up the wall into flat rectangular forms in low raised relief. Each of the
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rectangular forms was then painted to resemble expensive marble veneer. The overall aesthetic effect is to emphasize the wall as a barrier, a partition between two spaces. In the grandest houses at Pompeii, these simply painted walls often flank floors decorated with illusionistic mosaics that dematerialize the floor. A good example is the mosaic copy of Philoxenos’ Alexander and Darius at the Issos (Stokstad fig. 5-66 and website images) from the House of the Faun . The Second Style is called the Architectural Style. The style is illusionistic, and seeks to extend the space of the room visually, sometimes providing illusory windows to the outside world. The style’s title is derived from the painted architectural elements, pilasters, columns and entablatures that appear to support the ceiling. The posts can also be used to divide one scene from the next in a system of polyscenic illustration or continuous narration . In the grander houses at Pompeii, rooms with walls painted in the second style (as well as in the third and fourth styles) are usually paved with mosaics of geometric motifs emphasizing the floor as a surface. A good example is the cubiculum (bedroom) from the Villa Boscoreale (Stokstad figs. 6-30, 6-31 and website image) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art .
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