Roman Wall Painting Essay

Most of the research on the Roman wall painting in the period of 1st century B.C. to 1st century of A.D. are followed on the bases of the researches conducted mainly in the 18th century. The samples Roman art were saved thanks to the eruption of Vesuvius Mountain that, as the result, covered the entire town of Pompeii and several cities in the aria with volcanic ash and lava. As the result the most famous examples of the Roman wall painting were found there and for this reason it is often referred to as the Pompeian wall painting. At the same time one should remember that despite the fact that Pompea was reach and luxury city it was still a province and for this reason it only followed the art of big art centers like Rome and Naples with the delay in 10 to 20 years.

Styles of painting
The most important characteristic of Roman wall painting is always the synthesis developing from combination and adaptation of elements of Late-Classical Greek, Hellenistic and Etruscan art.

The most typical of Roman wall painting is, therefore, its system, not the various constituting parts of it. (Tanaquil, 2004)

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As it was mentioned before the most of the material for studies was excavated in the 18th century, however, the actual study of that material began only in the second half of the 19th century. The system of roman wall painting was developed by August Mau and is still followed nowadays. Several studies added new details to the system, others just concentrated on particular scenes and elements of the wall paintings.

In order to paint a smooth surface was required. To get that surface instead of rough wall several layers of chalk were used. Sometimes their number could reach 6 or even 7. While the last layer was wet the painting “al fresco” was made. This wall decoration was put on from the top to the bottom of the wall, i.e. the painting was put on in phases and covered the whole of the wall. The decoration was put on, after an incised study draw had been made, by the pictor. (Tanaquil, 2004)

Evolution of styles
Despite there are four roman styles of wall painting the goal of this paper is to examine the evolution of the first three.

The First Style Roman wall painting, «Incrustation» is thought to imitate Greek painting that created flat areas of color and ‘faux» finishes (like a fake marble or oak finish). (Hoover, 2001) For this style it was typical to divide the wall into three painting zones crowned with a stucco cornice of dentils based upon the Doric architectural order.(The Metropolitan Museum of Art) The artists of that period, in order to simulate masonry drew the examples of early Hellenistic period (late fourth to third century B.C.). That art can be referred to as an art of the late Republican Period.

The decline of the First Style coincided with the Roman colonization of Pompeii in 80 B.C., which transformed what had essentially been an Italic town with Greek influences into a Roman city. Going beyond the simple representation of costlier building materials, artists began to borrow from the figural repertoire of Hellenistic wall painting, depicting gods, mortals, and heroes in various contexts. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) One of the best-known examples of that era are fallowing: Peaches and Glass Jar,» still life fresco from Herculaneum, c.50 ce and «Young Woman with a Stylus,» fresco from Pompeii, 1st Century ce.

The second style referred to the period of 1st century B.C. This style opened up the wall by providing an illusion of windows and porticos, which looked outward onto imaginary scenes, usually framed by painted columns and architraves. Painted architecture in this style tended towards the heavy and substantial, with multi-point perspective sometimes giving an Escher-like effect (Gunther, 1999). The Villa P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale is the brilliant example of the painting of the mature second style. Villa is reach in painted masonry, visual ambiguities that tease the eye, columns and pillars casting shadows in the viewers space and more conventional trompe l’oeil devices (The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

The objects of daily life are painted very realistically, with vases of glass and metal on the shelves. It seems that the aim of the villa’s owner was to create an art gallery. Examples in Style II also include the «Odyssey» paintings from a Roman house on the Esquiline (now in the Vatican), Livia’s Villa at Prima Porta (paintings in the Museo Nazionale Romano), the Villa at Boscoreale (Gunther, 1999).

The third style belongs to the First Caesar Period; circa 25 BCE to 60 CE (Ehlich, 2000). The stile coincided with the Augustus’ reign brought the innovation instead of the recreation in the field of painting. The illusionism was rejected and the surface ornamentation was favored. The paintings normally consisted of monochrome background of black red or white with vegetal or architectural details.

The finest known achievements of the early Third Style are the frescoes from the Imperial villa at Boscotrecase, where attenuated candelabra and columns support exquisitely rendered vignettes. The early Third Style, which was in effect the court style of Emperor Augustus and his friend Agrippa, eventually gave way to a rekindled interest in elaboration for its own sake.

The conclusion can be drowned that the evolution of the styles in the roman wall painting was determined to the large extend by the political and cultural development of the entire empire.

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