Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pic o' the Day #1311- Quails' Eggs and Darts

One of the fun things about studying ornament is finding common threads and unusual variations on a theme. One that I noticed in Pompeii last summer was this Corinthian column in the Basilica, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the columns in the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, and is the only other place that I have seen this type of capital (other than modern variations). It's the ruffled and curled over vertical edges of the acanthus leaves that makes them distinctive; most other acanthus leaves have more prominent tops, while the sides are relatively flat. Here's a few images to illustrate what I'm talking about.

Corinthian capital in the Basilica at Pompeii. Notice the curly edges of the acanthus leaves.
A reconstructive drawing of the capital from Francois Mazois' Les Ruines de Pompeii, (1820).

Capital at the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli also has the ruffled edges of the acanthus leaves. It also has flutes that end  without being rounded

A more typical Roman style corinthian capital, as seen at the Pantheon. Here the tops of the acanthus leaves are the most pronounced part of the bell. 

The Ionic style capitals also have an interesting variant with "Quail egg" and dart, a style I have not seen elsewhere. This is also in the Basilica. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pic o' the Day #1310- The Lure of the Lares

In most houses in Pompeii you will find a shrine (sometimes two) that is usually called a "lararium", because it often held figures of the Lares, guardian deities that watched over the house and its inhabitants. There would also be statues of the prime deities (Juno and Jupiter, for example), ancestors, heroes, and small offerings to these various gods. Ceremonies of passage, thanks, and offerings would be held here, sometimes officiated by an outside priest (if you were wealthy enough.) These shrines persisted until the time of the Christians, when they were banned in favor of centralized places of worship (and fee collection!) 

Fairly elaborate lararium in the House of the Gilded Cupids

Shelves would have held figurines of gods, heroes, ancestors, and lares, along with offerings of food, flowers and monies.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pic o' the Day #1309- Dog Day Afternoon

Spent the afternoon yesterday with some very good old friends looking at the Pompeii exhibit currently at the Los Angeles Science Museum. It was a bit thin in the display, and a bit long in the "interactivities" department, but there were still a few nice bits. This one was a little marble sculpture of puppies that was thought to have been in a garden area. Very cute!

Who can resist sleeping puppies?
There was also a large marble wash basin with elegant sphinx supports and an unusual triangular base.

Detail of the sphinx support. Love those wings!

Another detail of the vegetal ornament on the plinth. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pic o' the Day #1308- Waddya gonna do?

The houses of Pompeii are in trouble! After exposure to the elements for 250 years, many of them are crumbling to dust, attacked by many factors such as rain water, invasive plants, vibrations from modern machinery, and the thousands of feet and hands that wander through and over them every day. 

One of the most vulnerable areas are the floors, which must bear the brunt of both water exposure that they were not designed for, as well as the weight of many more people than they ever experienced during their working lives. Solutions are not forthcoming quickly either (due to numerous factors) and thus many of these houses have simply shut the doors to prevent further damage until a trajectory, and the funding for that trajectory, can be found. Raised walkways, protective coverings, and regular maintenance are all possible, but they are all expenses too, and the sources for that funding are limited, especially when you consider the scale of the site. Did you know almost one third of Pompeii is still unexcavated, awaiting funds so that it can be preserved after it is exposed?

I spoke a bit about opus signinum a few days ago, and today I will talk about its big sister, mosaic. Besides the fancy pictorial or compartmented style of mosaics seen in the first photo here, the simpler random style of mosaic was very popular and is found in many of the houses in Pompeii. Like the opus signinum, it protected the floor and gave many years of wear (consider that some of these floors have now been walked on for over 300 years!), but it could be created by less skilled artists, and was thus less expensive. It was funny to notice how many of these random looking patterns resemble the inexpensive linoleum that covered the floor of my childhood kitchen floor, providing many of the same functions.

Floors of the House of Cuspius Pansa are spectacular, but you can't go in now for fear that they will crumble, as so many already have. 
Section of the floor of the Villa of the Mysteries, where you can see how many floors look there now. Fortunately, this one was being restored in 2013.

Patterning of this random style floor is found in many houses of the period. It looks so much like linoleum patterns I grew up with in houses of the 1950's.

Another all over pattern of the same type

Reverse pattern with color on a white background. Great way to use up your leftover marble chips!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pic o' the Day #1307- Just like Grandma's

In a few of the antique houses in the Bay of Naples area (the shadow of Mt Vesuvius) you will find rooms like this one, with all over patterns that resemble wallpaper you might have seen earlier in the twentieth century. Only difference is they're not printed, or even stenciled, but instead are laboriously hand painted over the entire surface. Thus, unlike today, where repeat patterns are seen as common and cheap, this was a luxurious treatment worthy of a fine room in a fine home, which the House of the Gilded Cupids was. As you can see, it also had a mosaic floor, a faux marble socle (the lower part of the wall), and a vaulted ceiling with more plaster and painted decoration. 

Field pattern in the House of the Gilded Cupids looks like wallpaper, but it's not.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pic o' the Day #1307- Snakes Alive!

In Roman times the snake was not seen as a symbol of evil but quite the opposite- of good fortune and longevity. Everywhere you look in Pompeii you will find decorations featuring snakes receiving offerings- in this case a pine cone and what looks like a fig, sitting on top of an altar. They are part of the decoration of a lararium, the small household (or even business- they are found in many of the town's restaurants) shrine where ancestry and family rites were celebrated. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pic o' the Day #1306- the Roots of Linoleum

Pompeii also has great floors, and that's one of the prime concerns in terms of conservation. Besides the laborious full mosaic patterns, there was also a technique called opus signinum that incorporated smaller bits of stone in a cementitious flooring material that was durable and shiny, but less costly than a mosaic. Many different patterns can be found around town, both indoors and out. Actually, it's more like terrazzo than linoleum, but the patterning is not unlike what you'd find today on peel and stick tiles at Home Depot.

In the House of the Gilded Cupids (Amorini Dorati)

Same house, different room.