Ancient Roman Wall Painting

The visual arts in ancient Rome included a long history of wall painting and much of what we know about it comes from the excavated ruins of Pompeii and the smaller nearby town Herculaneum.  Roman painting in general did not survive however the eruption of Mount Vesuvius near Naples in 79 AD buried the towns in volcanic ash, which served to preserve these works of art.

Rather than having windows, Roman homes were built around a central courtyard, therefore wall painting was both decorative and served the purpose of visually expanding the interiors.  They were expensive to commission and primarily found in the homes of the wealthy.

Dionysiac Frieze,Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii, Second Style, 60-50 BC

While there was quite a variety in subject matter, Roman wall painting is generally broken down into four main types.Eve D’Ambra in her book Roman Art describes each of the types as follows*:

-The First Style, also known as the Masonry Style, represented walls dressed with faux paneling of marble and other stones (200-80 BC).

-The Second Style opened up the wall with architectural vistas (80-20 BC).

-The Third emphasized the decorative architectural frameworks and created the illusion of pictures hanging on the wall (20 BC-40 AD).

-The Fourth incorporated many elements of the Third Style (40-79 AD) to represent textile patterns of wall hangings or views of vaguely defined architectural forms that seem to hang in space, together with mythological panels and floating figures.

In this blog post we will look at some examples of each of these styles.

Roman Wall Painting- First Style (200-80 BC)

Herculaneum: First Style, painted wall decoration, 2nd Century BC

The above is a classic example of First Style wall painting with large rectangular areas painted to look like colored marble or stone.  In these there was no further decoration or narrative and as said above this was also referred to as the Masonry Style.  This style dominated Roman wall painting for over a century before it was replaced by the entirely different Second Style.

Roman Wall Painting- Second Style (80-20 BC)

Below right
Cubiculum from the Villa of Fannius Synistor
Boscoreale, Second Style, 40-50 BC

Above left:
Walled Garden, House of Livia at Prima Porta,
Palatine Hill, Rome, Second Style, late 1st century BC

This style began around 80 BC and here we start to see a trompe l'oeil affect.  Wall paintings are now being used to "create" windows with imaginary views into towns and gardens, or to create columns and other architectural elements. 

Let's look at our two examples above, the one on the left was from the House of the Empress Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus.  Shown is one section of a wall, this effect continued throughout the room, thus the wall painting is used to give the illusion of an open space.  The other example, found at the Villa of Boscoreale near Pompeii, creates a cityscape outside of an imaginary window.  

Both versions use the entire wall space and include painted marble "columns" to enhance the visual effect that these are real spaces.

A completely different type of Second Style wall painting can be found in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, so named for its interesting painting of individuals performing an unknown series of rituals in the triclinium (formal dining room).

Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii. Dionysiac Frieze, north wall, left side: 
Draped Woman, Woman and nude Boy, Girl with an offering plate, 
and Figures around a table, Second Style, 60-50 BC

The meaning behind the paintings in this Villa have intrigued historians since they were excavated in the late 18th century.  Above is one section of the rituals, but the scene wraps entirely around the room and the life size figures are set against a vivid red background in an illusion of another interior space.  It is thought that the figures here are performing rituals associated into the initiation into the cult of the god Dionysus (Bacchus).  This type of figurative frieze was not as common as the typical Second Style wall painting had full size invented architectural elements.

Roman Wall Painting- Third Style (20 BC-40 AD)

Boscotrecase: Villa of Agrippa Postumus: Room 16: north wall 
Third Style, 11-7 BC

The Third Style of Roman wall painting was more comparable to modern day wallpaper, having a decorative effect.  It can also be seen as a type of painting gallery, alluding to the owner's taste in the arts such as in the above example found in Boscotrecase (also outside of Pompeii).  Though actual framed paintings from the ancient world have not survived they have been written about and it is assumed wealthy patrons had them in their homes.  In our example below, from the Villa of Marcus Lucretius a rather detailed landscape is shown.

Triclinium of the Villa of Marcus Lucretius,Third Style, Pompeii

This was a popular version of the Third Style, using some of these small framed "paintings" and placing them in regular intervals against a wall painted in a solid color, or in large areas of solid color with created architectural elements such as columns or cornices.

Roman Wall Painting- Fourth Style (40-79 AD)

The Fourth Style combines elements of the Second and Third Styles and expands upon both.

Pompeii: House of the Vettii: wall painting, Red occus early Fourth Style: 
det.: Apollo victorious over Python, 62-68 AD

As D'Ambra wrote, the Fourth Style "represents textile patterns of wall hangings or views of vaguely defined architectural forms that seem to hang in space, together with mythological panels and floating figures."*

Here we see a very wide variety in styles and designs, there are painted windows, columns and cornices of the Second Style, used in combination with the decorative elements and "painted pictures" of the Third.

Domus Aurea: Room of the Landscapes
Domus Aurea (Golden House of Nero), Rome, Fourth Style, 64-69 AD

As so many of these wall paintings were found in the Bay of Naples area due to their preservation in volcanic ash, the four styles of Roman wall painting end at 79 AD with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

For more information on this topic visit this link from the Met:
Metropolitan Museum of Art Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Thematic essay

*D’Ambra, Eve. Roman Art. (New York: Cambridge University Press,1998) p. 140.

How Can Trance Beats Help To Shape Music?

Even in the most solo of efforts, music is always a collaborative effort. The musician takes his personal collective influences and transforms these into sound, or music. Trance music, specifically was introduced as a genre of music in Frankfurt, Germany in 1993 and is primarily computer generated, although it is often manipulated by human beings. Trance is very popular in the "club scene" because much of the trance beats are designed to be very upbeat and motivating. When played in clubs, the preference is often to play the music on vinyl which gives the DJ the opportunity to manipulate the songs through bending and scratching the record and offering variance to the sound.

The "instrument" used in trance is the computer, which gives the music a very modern feel. Vocals may or may not be present, but when they are, it's usually a female voice with an operatic or ethereal quality that simply vocalizes rather than sings. However, ironically, it shares a lot in common with classical music, particularly the characteristic of repeating variations of short musical phrases throughout a piece. Most trance music, however, is much faster than typical classical music keeping a beat near 150 beats per minute. Many listeners are both captivated and uplifted by trance music.

While many people love trance music and love it on its own, it's not something everyone likes to listen to by itself. However, there are elements of trance beats that occur often within other kinds of music. One only has to listen to a few minutes of trance music to recognize that very similar beats have become the backdrop to many different pop and dance tracks as well as on film scores and music for television shows. Musicians and producers know the positive energy trance music brings to many people, and how it gives them an opportunity to feel and experience the music. Many musicians really embrace incorporating elements of trance sounds into their own.

Human beings have always had a fascination with music and their own ability to play and participate in music. Today, most of the music we listen to is played from digital files, and as a treat we may go to a club, a concert, or try playing an instrument ourselves. But of course, not everyone is musically gifted. With trance music, or other genres of music that features a trance beat there is an emphasis on making the listener a participant in the music, even if they have little talent.

Music and instruments are made from whatever we have available around us, and the things that are important to our lives. Our ears pique when we hear a cello in a rock band, or an electric guitar appearing in an orchestra. We crave "one-off" sounds that let us know music is still marching forward. With technology being such a driving force today, there is little doubt that elements of trance music will continue to infuse music of all genres for years to come.

The Other Sistine Chapel Frescoes

Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel Ceiling frescoes are among the most famous paintings in the world.  However the entire Sistine Chapel is covered in fresco paintings, the walls were painted nearly thirty years earlier by some of the most famous artists of the late 15th century.  

Pope Sixtus IV commissioned the frescoes for the walls in 1481 and asked that the Chapel be completed within a year (named the "Sistine" Chapel in his honor).  He chose to hire several successful fresco painters from Tuscany and Umbria.  The Florentines included: Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli and Cosimo Rosselli (assisted by Piero di Cosimo).  From Perugia came Pietro Perugino (who was assisted by Pinturicchio) and Luca Signorelli who worked in both regions.

 The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Matthew, Domenico Ghirlandaio,

The Calling of the Apostles moves away from the stylization of his Last Supper and towards the later style he would become known for.  Look at the two halves of the painting, the figures on the right side are painted in a rather stylized way, mostly in profile while the figures in the center and on the left side are more naturalistic.  This fresco is filled with details and uses atmospheric perspective so that the objects in the background are painted in blues and grays.  The painting is also rich in color, no expense was spared in the use of pigments.

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter, Pietro Perugino (with Pinturicchio)
Sistine Chapel, 1481-82

Pietro Perugino was a key figure in the Italian Renaissance and a painter who emphasized beauty and harmony in his work.  Pinturicchio was his student and his assistant and worked closely with him.  The style of Pinturicchio (and also of the early Raphael) was very similar to their master Perugino who brought a new sense of gracefulness to the High Renaissance.  Here he shows Christ handing the keys of the church to St. Peter, which was an appropriate theme for the chapel attached to St. Peter's Basilica.

This is both a very famous work of art and also was a very influential work of art for later painters.  Unlike some other paintings and frescoes done at this time which were in private villas or small chapels, St. Peter's and the Sistine Chapel received thousands of visitors from all over Europe and beyond.  Perugino's graceful handling of human figures, use of one-point perspective and inclusion of harmonious 15th century Italianate architecture within a Biblical story would influence a wide variety of future artists.

Temptation of Christ, Sandro Botticelli
Sistine Chapel, 1481-82 

The Pope requested ten frescoes from the Old Testament (painted on the south wall) and New Testament (painted on the north wall) as well as many papal portraits near the clerestory windows.  Botticelli painted three of the large frescoes and around seven portraits.  Some of the frescoes on the altar wall were removed in the early 1530's to make way for Michelangelo's famous Last Judgement fresco which now covers the entire wall.

The Testament and Death of Moses, Luca Signorelli
Sistine Chapel, 1481-82

Luca Signorelli is perhaps most famous for his fresco of the Antichrist in the Cathedral of Orvieto, but that wasn't painted until 1499.  This is a much earlier work from this artist who was active in Tuscany, Umbria and Rome.  This fresco uses continuous narrative to show several scenes from the life of Moses including: Moses teaching the law to the Israelites, being shown the Promised Land from Mount Nebo and the descent of Moses from the mountain.

This was not the first time that several of these painters had met each other, both Ghirlandaio and Perugino were students in the workshop of Florentine Andrea Verrocchio along with Leonardo da Vinci.  Ghirlandaio as mentioned earlier would go on to train Michelangelo and Perugio would become the teacher of Raphael.  Botticelli may also have studied with Verrocchio (both painters studied under Fra Fillipo Lippi).  These artists would collaborate with one another in the future as well: Perugino, Ghirlandaio and Botticelli all worked on another fresco cycle together in a villa of Lorenzo di Medici in the mid-1480's.

The Italian "High Renaissance" is often said to have lasted from 1480-1520 and certainly these frescoes were painted in a style that had an enormous influence.  I have often thought that this interesting fresco cycle truly marked the start of the Italian High Renaissance.