7 / Domestic Life
|Artist / Origin||
Unknown artist, Pompeii, Italy
ca. 1st century
Period: 1 CE - 500 CE
|Location||Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, Italy|
|Credit||Courtesy of Art Resource, NY/Photo by Erich Lessing|
|Bettina BergmannProfessor of Art, Mount Holyoke College|
Theatrical decoration with figures
There wasn’t a long tradition for domestic art in Italy before the Romans conquered the Greek Hellenistic world. So the import of Greek works of art and Greek artists into Italy really formed the tastes and the appearance of domestic art and architecture. But the Romans intentionally changed what they found in the Greek models. We have very few names of Roman artists—they were wall painters—and that is surprising considering the virtuosity of these walls. So Roman craftsmen did not have the same kind of status as painters have since the Renaissance in our culture.
The imperial residences had the same kinds of frescoes that small houses did. Sometimes the smallest, most modest little house will have one room that’s really beautifully decorated. So scale and design of a house don’t necessarily tell us who the owner was. The quality of the decoration doesn’t necessarily reflect the status of the owner.
I think in decorating a home, one is thinking about the audience, who is going to see this? You are thinking of somebody coming in. I think that they were competing with the Joneses—‘I think that big house down the street has beautiful mythological paintings. We want to have mythological paintings in our atrium as well.’ But they are all different, and that’s what’s so interesting is that every house, every room, every wall is different. You never find an identical copy. It’s very personal on a level, the choice of subject matter, and the choice of colors, so I think there is some personal expression.
We are really wowed by modern technology that takes us into virtual worlds. I wonder if when a Roman went into a room if something similar happened. Because one can spend hours, days, weeks in that room and it will never be the same, and your eye can move into so many different realms and zones because of this illusionism. And that was intentional. This was an art that was meant to be experienced over time.”