Roman Walls and Floors

By
Adam Tabeling
Adam Tabeling is a second-year Ph.D. candidate in the Interdepartmental Classical Art and Archaeology program. Having finished his honors thesis entitled, “An Iconographical Study of Helen and Paris Alexandros in Etruscan Art” at the University of Colorado in 2011, Adam has continued his interest and research in iconography of the Greco-Roman world, mainly of relief sculpture. He recently gave a paper at the University of Freiburg on the Cancelleria Reliefs and is currently writing a monograph on the friezes of the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi. Aside from relief sculpture, Adam focuses on the topography of Rome, civic architecture and the relationships between politics and art. He will be attending the American School of Classical Studies at Athens this summer.

_D3M1293webIn the fall of 2012, while sifting through the inventory of the JHUAM for objects that could be incorporated into our exhibition “The Roman House at Hopkins,” one small mosaic and several fresco fragments emerged from the storerooms that seemed ideal for our representation of Roman domestic space .  The goal was to curate these distinct objects as an ensemble.  However, this proved challenging since the fresco fragments date to the first century CE and probably come from Campania, whereas the mosaic dates to the fourth century CE and most likely comes from North Africa.  Nevertheless, I decided that the dates and the provenances should not be precluding factors and recognized that this mosaic and these fresco fragments do have one commonality: together, they create the blueprint of a Roman house comprising walls and floors that define the spaces within which its patrons lived.  We may, therefore, imagine that the floor mosaic and the wall fresco fragments symbolically unite and “house” our collection of domestic material that fabricates our exhibition.   They are the foundation of our Roman domus.

The richest corpus of Roman frescoes comes from the ancient cities on the Bay of Naples that were destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79CE.  It is, therefore, likely that the five fresco fragments discussed in this exhibition come from the painted walls of houses in and around the vicinity of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Although the fragments are rather small, they reveal ornamental motifs that are characteristic of the repertoire of Roman wall painting in the first century CE.  During this time, the popular style of depicting realistic architectural forms and landscapes during the late Republic (80-20 BCE) shifted toward imaginative and fantastical surface decoration.  Contrasted against a monochromatic background – typically red, black or white – fanciful columns, schematic candelabra, floral patterns, animated animals, mythological creatures and religious objects were used not only to frame larger pictorial panels, but also to enliven the entire composition of the wall.  Our fragments exemplify the popularity of ornamental details that accentuated Roman wall painting in the first century CE.

 

  • A Black Fresco Fragment
  • A Red Fresco Fragment
  • A White Fresco Fragment
  • An Emblema Mosaic
  • Fresco Fragment 987
  • Fresco Fragment 997
  • Select Bibliography