In 79 A.D. the volcanic eruption of
In the first style (also called the “Masonry Style” and the “Incrustation Style”) of Roman wall painting, the walls are painted to seem as though they are covered with colorful stones, especially marble slabs and masonry blocks. Such stones were typically seen in more upper class homes. Thus, this style means to project the wealth of the villa owner. The first style accentuates the flatness of the wall with panels that imitate imported, and therefore expensive, stone. This emphasis on flatness changes drastically in the second style. The example image that I show is from the Samnite Villa from
The second style (also called the “Illusionistic Style” and the “Architectural Style”) replaces the reproduction of stone blocks with landscape scenes. Wall paintings of the second style creates the illusion of a three dimensional space from what is actually a two dimensional space. The style opens the wall by portraying windows and porticos (which are essentially roofs supported by columns, almost like a porch) which guide the viewer’s eye towards imaginary scenes that were usually framed by painted columns and other architectural elements. So the space transcends the room using several perspective devices. Idyllic landscape paintings of the second style usually have sacred buildings and figures. Some scenes also feature events that stem from Hellenistic myth and theater. For example, the painting on the cubiculum (or bedroom) walls of the villa of Publius Fannius Synistor (now in the
The third style (also called the “Ornate Style” and the “Ornamental Style”) limits pictorial illusion in order to create framed images where the framing is actually painted on. The overall appearance is flat in contrast to the three dimensional space created in the second style. The third style closes up the walls making a sort of picture gallery effect. The third style also abandons the second style’s realistic architectural elements and open vistas. The architecture that is shown in the paintings of the third style is now slender, fine, and unrealistic. In some third style paintings, elongated candelebrae (or decorative candlesticks that look like columns) replaces the second style’s painted columns. The image that I show here is a wall painting from the tablinum (which is a room typically across from the entrance and beside the atrium) of the villa of Marcus Lucretius Fronto from
The fourth style incorporates elements from earlier styles. The architecture in fourth style wall paintings is more realistic and the wall has a tendency to open up like the second style although not as much. Deriving from the third style, fourth style paintings have an almost portable quality about them. They frequently have aediculae (or a small Roman shrine) and tapestries painted using the art technique of tromp-l’oeil, which means that a three dimensional space is imitated. But something that is only seen in the fourth style is the imitation of stage backgrounds. My example image is from the triclinium (or dining room) of the House of the Vettii in
I did not mention in my description of each style that August Mau (the German scholar, remember him?) also assigned dates to each of these styles. This is really tricky because in actuality all we really know is that all of the remaining wall paintings were done before 79 A.D. Also, although I showed examples that fit the description of each style to make it clear, there are so many paintings that have elements from each style that cannot really be placed in any one time period. However, what August Mau did was make it a lot easier for people to discuss and categorize wall paintings. Although the dates are pretty much bunk, some wall paintings (like those shown) do follow many of the criteria for Mau’s styles.