Four Styles of Roman Wall Painting and Mosaics
A. Mau, a German scholar, established four distinct styles of Roman wall painting at the sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Boscoreal, and other smaller sites covered with ash from the volcanic eruption at Mount Vesuvius. The styles begin with one direction, shift completely, and end on a more combined technique. Style I, known as incrustation, began approximately during the second century b. c. This style features the strong influence of the Hellenistic Greek period in its surface decoration. At the Samnite House at Herculaneum, walls are painted as faux marble slabs. This is very typical of the influence of Hellenistic Greece.
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There is a three fold division of a Roman wall during this time. The dado is at the bottom, the middle section imitates the stone slabs, and the upper part features a cornice and frieze. The slabs are outlined with stucco. The wall surface is concrete covered with plaster to create the fresco. This style enhances the flatness of the wall, with panels that imitate masonry. These surfaces mock the stone veneers that may have been seen in more upper class homes. Many small rooms in this style appear to be busy and claustrophobic due to every surface being covered in bright color.
Very different from Style I, Style II, also known as architectonic, focuses on the illusion of creating a three dimensional scene from a two dimensional space. Illusionistic and naturalistic, it is common to see scenes that are rich and lifelike, with strong use of chiaroscuro, and linear perspective. The faux marble is replaced by landscape scenes, though more so later in the period. Some scenes feature ritualistic events deriving form Hellenistic myths and theater. The Idyllic Landscape wall painting from Pompeii, c. 79 AD, features sacred buildings and figures.
There is a depiction of the love of nature and of peace and reflection in these pieces; a strong sense of what idealistic life meant to the people at this time. This style, which originated around 90 b. c. in Rome, centers on images framed by illusionistically painting columns. At the House of the Griffins, corinthian capitalized columns surround a portico. There are painted panels of marble set between two columns. Style III, the ornamental style, moved to a new focus on framing and gallery imagery. Mimicking Style I, walls are richly painted in bright red, yellow, and black, enclosing the rooms space.
Unlike previous styles, the focus now is on elaboration and detail. Walls are divided into small panels with support framed paintings. Because paintings are now individual, there is greater ease at decorating and rooms can now be reworked much quicker and with greater ease. Oecus, at Pompeii, c. 63-79 AD is an example of this style. There is a panel depicting Hercules fighting off snakes in a gallery style room. Much of the work from this time reflects these ancient Hellenistic themes from mythology. After the earthquake of AD 62, Pompeiian homes were rebuilt and redecorated in what is called Style IV by Mau.
This style focuses on intricacies, and as in previous styles, more and more elaborate scenes continue to be created at this point. The detail of Achilles and Chiron from the basilica at Herculanuem, a fresco from the first century AD, truly feels the way style IV was meant to: true rich detail, the perfection of the craft. An accurate depiction of their world was created in home across the region. There is a strong sense of how light plays off objects. Landscapes are more realistic and the details are more important. Style IV confines three dimensional images to two dimensional framed spaces like an exhibition.
Images in a room are generally unrelated, but use strong aerial perspective and accurate detail. Rich architectural framing completed the look of this style which combined all others to this final point. Mosaics were used widely during the Hellenistic period of Greece, but became widely popular for home decoration during this later Roman period. Initially pebbled were used, but eventually, cut glass and colored stone were popular, and called tesserae. These were pressed in to soft cement called grout. The spaces were filly with cement and then the work was cleaned and polished.
First used as durable floor coverings, eventually, as the style became popular, interior walls and exterior fountains were decorated. As time wore on, a variety of colors began to be used. Often, well known paintings were imitated in mosaic tile, cutting the pieces to resemble the brush strokes of the original work. With the development of emblemata, meaning central design, working with mosaics became more efficient. Small compositions were made ahead of time in an artists workshop, set in trays of either marble of terra cotta.
These pre-planned compositions were then brought to the work site to be laid into an completed more simple or geometric background design. This saved the artist much time and aggravation. In a work from Hadrians Villa at Trivoli, c. 118-28 AD, the Battle of Centaurs and Wild Beasts may be a copy of a Greek work by Zeuxis, c. fifth century b. c. He was an admired painter of centaur fight scenes. In this mosaic copy, the figures are rendered in strong three dimension with detailed shading and foreshadowing. There are a variety of poses and colors.
This new mosaic work featured the use of tromp loeil to fool the eye. Another mosaic piece around this time was a work by Heracleitus using tromp loeil to represent a floor full of table scraps meant for the household pets. A mouse an be seen scavenging for the scraps. Because of the immense detail and shadow illusions, one could truly believe the work to be real food on a floor. This is what Roman artists wanted. Roman Sculpture Historical reliefs were prominent in Roman culture as a political statement. One such piece, the Ara Pacis Augustae, from 13-9 AD, is a huge marble sculpture 345 tall and 38 long.
It commemorates the triumph of Augustus return after the Civil War. This major type of monument features ox heads and garland with mythical figures representing peace, prosperity, and motherhood. One the side, a family is depicted in imperial procession, with the royal family in high relief. The frontal figures are higher with the emphasis on the children. Constructed during the reign of Emperor Augustus, in Campo Marzio, the Ara Pacis was a great work to top off his domination of the known world. The solariums shadow of its obelisk fell on the Ara Pacis on September 23rd, Augustus birthday.
Triumph monuments were built for each emperor to signify their achievements. The Arch of Titus, 81 AD, a fifty foot tall concrete and white marble monument has three registers. The top level has an encryption to predecessors to show the level of dignity due to this ruler. The Column of Trajan, 106-113 AD, is a 128 foot tall monument with a base, constructed of marble. The significant achievements of this work lie in its design. There are diagonally wrapping registers of a narrative scene in very low relief to convey the message without glare from shadows. The top reliefs jut out to be more easily seen from the ground.
In sculptural portraiture, there are political influences as well, but also, aesthetic uses. During Flavian rule, popular features were a strong nose and jaw, heavy brows, and deep set eyes. The trend was toward realism. The bust of a Young Flavian Woman, 25 tall, of marble, features a fashionable hairstyle with drilled curls. Politically, a great portraiture example is the Bust of Emperor Caracalla from the third century AD. This marble piece is 14. 5 tall. Caracalla ruled from 211-217 when he was assassinated. Consistently depicted as angry, unforgiving, and scornful, this piece exemplifies this temperament.
Caracalla chose to be represented this way as a means to fear his people, feeling that they threat would keep them in line. He was a militaristic man and it shows deeply in his heavy eyes and angered expression. This piece truly signifies the change from more approachable portraits of leaders. One such portrait considered more approachable is the sculpture of Augustus from Primaporta from early in the first century AD. This 68 marble work was found at his wife, Lavias, villa. It illustrates the use of imperial portraiture for propaganda. This practice began with Augustus.
The orators gesture is used, combined with Polykelitos pose innovations. He is seen reaching out to his people, wearing armor carved in relief with depictions of Parthenos defeat to show off his accomplishments. Cupid sits at his leg to show his decendancy from the son of Venus. His face is idealized, but still shows some sign of realism. The equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, 180 AD, and 116 guilded bronze piece survived only because the early Christians believed this man atop the horse was their hero, Constantine, the man who decided to legalize Christianity.
No attempt was made to demean status; he has a beard and his horse is powerful. It became a model for Renaissance equestrian statues. The horse is seen in a gait, the authoritarian arm is raised, and the facial features are truthful. The attempt is to present a powerful visage. The shift from cremation to burial led to a greater demand for funerary sculpture. Wealthier men would commission a sarcophagus for his mausoleum. The sarcophagi were carved in intricate relief from geometric or floral patterns to detailed relief scenes. Mythological and theatrical scenes were as popular as war scenes.
An example of this type of sculpture is the Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus from 250 AD, and marble piece about five feet tall. It represents a battle between the Romans and the barbarians, reflecting a Hellenistic influence. There is a realistic spatial environment. The barbarians can easily be picked out, as well as the Roman army leader on horseback with his outstretched arm like the Marcus Aurelius bronze sculpture. Roman Architecture Innovations of Roman architecture may be best described by its aqueducts, basilicas, forums, theaters, and homes. The aqueduct is one of the great structures of its time.
Pont du Gard, built in the late first century b. c. in the southern community of France known as Nimes, it is 180 feet tall with a span of over 900 feet. It could carry one hundred gallons of water per person in the community per day in its time, and still stands today, used as a walking bridge; a certifiable example of the power and span of Romes power and spread. The first two levels of the aqueducts have arches of equal span, but the third level has a much smaller span. There are three smaller arches to each large one. Thought to have been executed by Agrippa in 20 b. , the stones were precicely cut from a local quarry, creating the three arcades. Water came from the springs of Uzes, thirty miles to the north of Nimes. Purely utilitarian, this work was left without decoration and even the projecting blocks used to support scaffolding remain. The Markets of Trajan, located in the Forum of Trajan, built in 113 AD, feature a main hall which makes use of the groin vault. It housed 150 shops, with stalled spaces for vendors, similar to a midsize shopping center. Basilica Ulpia, used once as a court of law, was built around 113 AD in Rome.
Also located at the Forum of Trajan, it is perpendicular to the courtyard and closes it off at the north end. Named for the family to which Trajan belonged, the basilica was a rectangular building with an apse at each end. There were several doors on the long sides and on the inside, a long nave with aisles on the sides. A colonnade on the sides connect to another story, above which is a gallery with a shorter colonnade. Above that is an open space that touches the ceiling; the clerestory. This was modeled after the Greek hypostyle hall. Coffers in the ceiling are for texture, beauty, and weight reduction.
The Pantheon, c. 125-128 AD, in Rome, was built as a temple for the Olympian gods during Hadrians rule. Sitting at the center of modern day Rome, it was originally built on a podium with one stairway. There is a front colonnade of post and lintel construction, corinthian columns, and no frieze in the entablature. It has a front porch, but the back half of the building is a rotunda which rests on a drum. There is a large dome which covers the the roof area, made of concrete with a sheer marble veneer. An oculus at the top lets light in and the cement dome, with its coffers lightens the weight.
There are straight and semicircular alternations of space for statues, as well as circular and triangular pediments which alternate as well. Shadows emphasize depth of the coffers. The Atrium of the House of the Silver Wedding is a prime example of house living space. Built some time before 79 AD in Pompeii, this house features a portico with peristyle gardens. The tablinum is a passageway which displays the busts of ancestors. The main entrance resembles a megaron with its pool at the center, and the open space is used to collect water. There are four post and lintel columns flanking the pool.
Another example of this type of building is a Room from a House on the Outskirts. Built near Pompeii, there are enclosed rooms which open to a patio area. A series of cityscapes are painted on the walls, and the illusion is that one is standing on an open porch, looking out to a neighborhood. There are three dimensional columns and ledges, and a temple at the top, with a colonnade. The perspective is intuitive, but an effective creation of an idea. The flat walls are broken up and made more interesting, with the appearance of a niche and shelf. The Villa of the Mysteries features a modern open floor plan.
Built around 50 bc. , three sides were painted with the fourth open to a porch. All walls were flat, but painted with illusionistic scenes. The painting, Initiation Rites of the Cult of Bacchus features a woman taking objects from a bag, a woman with a whip, a woman being whipped, a resting woman, and a woman dancing. This may be a series of the same woman. A faux marble stripe, illusion of a shelf, and balasters on the top with a frieze painting complete the work. The Roman Theater from the first century b. c, in Orange, France is modeled after the Greek amphitheater.
There is a cut off orquestra, made semicircular, with a large stage area behind it. The enclosed space has a series of levels with arches on the top level. Small, flat, engaged balasters decorate the enclosed portions face. A bust of Octavian sits above the large arch and centered doorway. Other architecture similar to this idea of group entertainment, is the colosseum. Built between 72-80 b. c. , this remarkable Roman building is concrete with arches and groin vaulting. An oval form with levels created by rings, there is a labyrinth of rooms on the ground floor. The level above the rooms is the arena, which has a base of sand.
The suns would strike different parts of the bleachers at different time of the day, and the awnings could be moved to create shaded areas. The exterior of the building has 76 doors that enter the groin vaulted rings, which creates a sense of openness. The exterior arches are a structural mechanism. The post and lintel system is for decorative purposes. All levels have engaged columns to create variety and rhythm to the outside view. Each level is unique; bottom level is of the doric order, next level is ionic, third level is corinthian, and top level is balastered.