Monday, July 28, 2014

Pic o' the Day #1314- Back to Grandma's

Here are some shots of another antique house with an all over pattern that very much resembles wallpaper patterns of many centuries later. This was of course not printed but entirely hand painted by skilled craftsmen. (They didn't even have paper  to speak of at that time, let alone printing technology.)
It is one of many very fine rooms at the Villa Adriana (or Arianna) in Stabia, which was once hanging on a seaside cliff, but is now about a quarter mile inland due to the shoreline being extended by volcanic debris.

This villa must have belonged to a very wealthy person, with mosaic floors, the deep red socle with golden decorations in a refined style, and the upper portion covered in carefully painted ornaments. The ceiling also would have been painted and/or covered with plaster ornament.

The panel at the bottom center is a digital replacement for the real one, which was removed and sent to Napoli in the 1750's, when these sites were first being uncovered. Even though the photo is a bit jarring, I still prefer it to a blank panel.

Decorations in the overall pattern include birds, flowers, shields and figures
detail of one of the figures

Friday, July 25, 2014

Pic o' the Day #1313- Details, Details

I've been noticing lately how much mileage the Roman painters of antiquity got out of their details. Quite often, the rich decoration of the walls of the antique houses consists of nothing more than colored panels limited by filigreed edges. Of course, the central panels could be more elaborate landscapes or figure paintings, but even those are mostly small centers in large panels, and it is the refined detail of the borders that give the feeling of luxury and richness to these interiors. Here's a small gallery of images of details I took at Stabia last summer.

Wall around the peristyle of the Villa San Marco at Stabia. Not really that much detail on them, but what is there shows great finesse.

Example of a divider based on a candelabrum style design

Details such as this candelabrum supporting a garland of leaves give a rich feeling to the division of panels, with a minimum of paint and time. 

Clever and unrealistic architectural supports are a hallmark of the third and fourth styles, and were harshly criticized by both Vitruvius and Pliny.

I don't even know what this is supposed to represent (lamp? musical instrument?) but the style is so attractive it doesn't really matter.

Border with a peacock feather accent. 
Even when a figure panel was included on the walls (like this beautiful painting of Perseus slaying Medusa), they are often very small by comparison to the size of the panels that divide the walls.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pic o' the Day #1312- Refreshing change at Stabia

After a frustrating day of multiple closures at Pompeii, we took a train down to the sleepy little town of Castellammare di Stabia to see two villas that are open to visitors there. You can read about the whole day on my earlier post. It was such a pleasure to see this villa, one of the earliest digs (starting in 1750) in the Bay of Naples. Being in the earliest days of exploration, it was pilfered, with the finest paintings and furnishings removed for the pleasure of the Bourbon king who ruled the area at the time, and then reburied, only to be re-excavated more gently in the 1950's. We were the only visitors at that time, and had free rein to wander and click to my heart's content. Here's a couple of shots showing the level of skill and detail that went into this sumptuous seaside palace.

Lower wall area of the atrium of the Villa San Marco at Stabia shows a creature with horses forelegs and a fishy tail, representing some type of water deity.  

Corner of a room in the Villa San Marco at Stabia

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!