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ArtHistory

#archaeology#art history#Italy#Pompeii

2,000 Years Ago, Pompeiians Dined Amid the Splendor of These Newly Excavated Frescoes

April 15, 2024

Kate Mothes

detail of a fresco partly obscured by rubble in a Pompeii home's banquet room, showing Helen and Paris from Greek mythology

All images © Archaeogical Park of Pompeii

The ancient city of Pompeii was divided into nine regions, each known as a Regio that was further organized into a number of blocks called Insulae. And in Regio IX, Insula 10, archaeologists recently unearthed stunning frescoes that are seeing the light of day for the first time since volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius engulfed the site in 79 C.E.

In a grand banquet room about 15 meters long and six meters wide that opens onto a courtyard, spectacular decorations in the Third Style, also known as the “ornate style,” cover every wall. Painted architectural details like columns and cornice motifs separate individual tableaux with popular figures from Greek myths centered on dense, black backgrounds.

Mythological figures in Roman residential wall paintings were intended to entertain guests; a mural was the ultimate conversation piece. The Archaeological Park of Pompeii says in a statement, “The dominant theme seems to be that of heroism, shown by the depictions of pairs of heroes and deities involved in the Trojan War, but also of fate and, at the same time, of the possibility, often not seized, that humans have of changing their own destiny.” These pieces emphasize storied couples, such as Helen and Paris, or Trojan priestess Cassandra depicted with Apollo.

excavated frescoes in Pompeii in a large banquet hall showing Greek mythological figures on black backgrounds

The frescoes’ black background, while dramatic, also served the practical purpose of camouflaging the smoke from oil lamps that darkened the walls over time. “People would meet to dine after sunset; the flickering light of the lamps had the effect of making the images appear to move, especially after a few glasses of good Campanian wine,” says park director Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

Regio IX is one of Pompeii’s larger neighborhoods at 3,200 square meters, yet much of it remains unexplored. Excavations began in 1888 only to stop for nearly a century. Today, work continues as part of a broader project to “shore up” the perimeter between the excavated and unexcavated areas and to improve the ancient hydrogeological structure that serves 1,070 historic residential units and public and sacred spaces.

Additional finds in the neighborhood include a detailed painting of a banquet and what appears to be a 2,000-year old proto-pizza uncovered last year, plus new sites open to the public like a “bakery-prison,” a laundry room, and two connected houses. If you’re in town, might also enjoy a stop at this inviting snack bar. Explore more on the park’s website.

detail of a fresco in a Pompeii home's banquet room, showing an architectural border and a figure from Greek mythology, partly obscured under rubble

detail of a fresco partly obscured under rubble in a Pompeii home's banquet room, showing an architectural border and a figure from Greek mythology

two images side by side showing (on the left) a small figure on a black background below an architectural detail, and (on the right) a Greek mythological figure in profile, wearing robes and an olive wreath

detail of a fresco partly obscured under rubble in a Pompeii home's banquet room, showing an architectural border and figures from Greek mythology, including a dog

a side by side image showing details of a fresco in a Pompeii home's banquet room

#archaeology#art history#Italy#Pompeii

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