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Roman Art:

Mosaic and Wall Paintings

Leaving Certificate Classical Studies

Mr John Smith – Coolmine Community School

  They painted on their walls to brighten up and
enliven rooms that were often dark and windowless

  Wall fresco’s also disguised the poor terrocatta

plaster that the original wall of the room was made

  Those who had the financial means were also

inclined to beautify their villa’s or Domus with
brightly coloured paintings.
  Firstly a few coats of mortar was applied to the wall,
this was a mixture of sand an lime

  Next a layer or two of sand and marble was applied

to the wall to make it smoother

  Then the artist painted background scenes and later

on added people to the painting, when the wall was
still wet

  Finally a smooth gloss of wax was applied to the

wall to give it a shine and preserve it (as well as
enhance the painting on the wall)
  Style one comprised of painted blocks on a wall to look like marble. Between
these blocks the artist painted horizontal and vertical cornice bands to give the
painting a sense of perspective,(no examples in Wheeler)

  Style two is characterised by its focus on realism. The buildings are given 3-D,
the perspective makes it look as if the painting recedes or goes back endlessly.
The garden scene of Livia is a good example. There is very efficient use made of
the wall space.

  In Style three the scene is less realistic – more impressionistic, (loose brush
strokes etc.) There is less emphasis on perspective. Painted architectural features
such as columns tended to be thin and windy rather than sturdy and realistic.
See offering to a seated Dionysius P.195 –this scene is “highly impressionistic”.
Peoples faces are barely recognisable either in this style

  In style four there a return of real perspective or 3D - the architecture is also

realistic. There is also more elaborate us of colour i.e. it is rich. We have
examples also of fantasy in this style, e.g. the theatre scene at Herculaneum
  A typical wall painting from the Roman Villa’s we have
studied are divided into three parts - “tripartite”
  At the bottom - a dado rail was painted, this marked
the beginning of the painting

  The middle section of the painting was the most

important and contained the main theme or scene

  At the top a cornice architrave was painted or a

decorative painted pediment
  In this way The Romans defined the spaces and
sections of the wall painting
  Landscape – garden of Livia P. 185
  Pastoral – countryside, (Shepherd before a shrine P.198)

  Harbour – seascape, (Harbour at Stabiae P.199)

  Still life – (House of Julia Felix P.202)

  Fantasy – (Theatre scene at Herculaneum P.203)

  Mythological/religious – Offering to a seated Dionysius or

Trojan Horse P.195
  Architectural – P.184

  Historical – (Riots outside the amphitheatre at Pompeii P.119)

  See Illustration 96, P.119

  This is a wall painting from a villa at


  It depicts the riots in and around the

amphitheatre at Pompeii in AD 59

  Note the painted awning – covering

the amphitheatre

  The perspective, or three-dimension

is all wrong

  The artist more concerned with

recording the history of the event
rather than engross in artistic finesse
  Illustrations 163, 164, 165   Illustrations 163-165

  “Domestic landscapes with huts   These late Republic - early

and people” Empire landscape paintings
  There was “the pleasant fashion of are a likened to the type of
painting walls with pictures of landscape paintings we see
country houses and porticos, during the Romantic
landscape gardens, groves, hills, fish
ponds, canals, rivers, coasts, with Movement, (late 18th early
sketches of people going for a stroll 19th century AD)
or sailing and approaching country
houses on asses, or on carriages, and   This “conscious cult of
fishing or fowling or hunting or
gathering the vintage” P. 185 nature” Is in harmony with
the spirit of the Augustan
period, (27BC-14 AD)
  P. 185 Illustration 166
  “ A master piece of Roman
Landscape painting”
  Gentle and sombre woodland lie
beyond a low garden paling
  Note how the space in the
painting is divided: to give the
painting a sense of endless
  Colours graduate between blue
and green with birds among the
  The colours are “Penetrating”
  Wall painting from the house of
Dioscuri at Pompeii before AD 79
  Achilles has a “gross and vigorous
visage”, (face)
  Perhaps Achilles is a portrayal of
some “ham actor from the stage”
  Achilles head was repainted
  The head could be that of the
patron himself
  Note the mythological background
to the painting – see my notes
“Bold use of colour and economy of detail give it great force” On the right the legs of the horse is “sturdily splayed forward as if to emphasise the strain”

  The Trojans pull the horse   The spectators are linked by a lone
emphatic figure who is running
towards the town towards the horse, this figure helps to
“coordinate” the scene and
  Their whole weight is being concentrate our eyes on it.
concentrated in “rhythm” into
the effort   Cassandra on the left is lightly
sketched, she is moving inward
towards the centre from the centre
  The light focused on them is the from the battlement walls
“functional centre” of the
painting. The dimmer static,   The crowded scene is little more
(standing) figures of the Trojan than a sketch- the episode is
army in the background contrast vividly displayed and the leaning
figures on the foreground are
sharply to figures pulling the “strikingly impressive”
Illustration 182 is Black and white
“Good solid landscapes which stand on their own merit”

  Illustration 182-figures sit and stroll in a

romantic landscape with trees and buildings
in the background

  This scene is “consciously romantic”

  It brings first century Pompeii close to 18th

century England

  These paintings are described as “sacro-


  Scenes are pastoral and peaceful and reflect

the interest that the Romans had in
landscape painting
  This is a wall painting of a
pastoral scene “in the Romantic
style of later centuries”

  Painted before AD 79

  The landscape is rugged in the


  In the fore ground is a country

shrine – a shepherd grazes his

  This bucolic scene is peaceful

and harmonious
  Wall painting of houses at noon
from Pompeii 79 AD
  The cluster of houses are bathed in
strong light with “black shadow”
  Black and white figures are
sketched “vigorously” here and
there in the foreground

  “It is a modest masterpiece of

impressionism which might hold
its place in a modern setting”
  The strong contrast of light and
shade are a “masterpiece” of
  A wall painting of a harbour scene at

  “The busy life of the harbour is shown

with striking force and with great
economy of line”

  Vivid but artistically less striking of a

townscape of a port from Naples

  We are shown quays, wharves and

shipping, adjacent ware houses, market
halls and monuments..

  Many of the columns carry statues,

  The artist and patron all display a

“lively interest” in the daily scene
  Still life –from Herculaneum
Kingfisher, vase, trident and sea
  Still life wall painting from the
house of Julia Felix (AD 79)
  “Thrushes, eggs and domestic
  Still life with fruit bowel and
  Note excellent use of lines,
shadows, colour and light.
  Also realism (everyday life) a
feature of the 4th Pompeian style
  Fantastically elaborate architectural detail is
probably derived from a theatre

  “fantastic baroque of the 4th style”

  These painting were unbelievably elaborate and

were designed to lighten and enlarge rooms of
the sophisticated townhouse

  A porch is sustained by gilded columns and

carry peagsi, dolphin, hippocampus and a
drama mask”

  Beyond recede interior views loaded with

ornament and with a sufficient scene of
perspective both in line and colour to suggest
“endless distance”

  This painting drew its inspiration from the


  Resembles the Scaenae frons of a theatre stage

  Found in the house of Faun   This battle scene is Tumultuous, i.e.
emphasising the chaos and din of
  Depicts the battle of Issus, battle: the drama is rendered vividly.
Alexander against Darius 3rd 333BC
  There is an attempt to distinguish
  The mosaic is derived from a the personalities involved
painting from Philoxenos or by
Aristeides   The little tesserae sensitively shows
us how the picture moves or changes
  Pliny says Aristeides was one of the -the light and shade mixes with the
first painters to “paint the soul and “dun” colours and as a result there is
give expression to the affections of a convincing reproduction of the lost
man and his emotions” original, (painting)
  These mosaics are to be found at
Hadrian’s great palace at Tivoli
AD 130
  A lion attacks a bull, the action is
  Below is a more peaceful pastoral
scene with goat and a goatherd
  Both mosaics are set in a
convincing rugged landscape
  The depiction of these country
scenes is graceful and realistic
  They are evidence of the Roman’s
interest in landscape art.
  Landscape Nilotic mosaics – Nilotic
means from the area around the river
  Hippopotamus, crocodile and ducks all
show us the influence of the city
Alexandria , (in Egypt) on Roman art

  Lower mosaic from a Roman Villa at

Zliten around 200 AD: horses and
cattle are depicted trashing corn
  Small birds in a nest

  Such mosaics panels would have been

made in a skilled workshop and set in
locally made floors
  Scenes depict country life and activity
theme is rural and bucolic
  Firstly the wall or floor was cleaned and made smooth

  Secondly the artist drew the scene on the floor or wall –

i.e. made out a sketch of the scene

  Thirdly the artist carefully placed the small one inch

marble tessarae onto the sketch. The small square pieces
were glued on to the coloured sketch

  The mosaic was left to set and dry

  Finally the mosaic (when dry) was once more cleaned,

and swept. A gloss or varnish may also have been
applied to give it a shine and protect the mosaic.