The Four Styles of Roman Wall Paintings


In 79 A.D. the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius occurred and destroyed the region around the bay of Naples in Italy. Most people escaped, and luckily the ancient Roman villas that were affected by Mt. Vesuvius were preserved due to layers of volcanic ash and lava that covered them. In the 19th century, the German scholar, August Mau, assigned four chronological styles to characterize the preserved Roman wall paintings found in these villas. These styles, however, are problematic for several reasons, which I will discuss at the end of this post. It’s important to mention that Roman wall painters employed the fresco technique, which means that paint was applied to wet plaster (which covered the concrete walls) so that when it dries it becomes almost a part of the wall.


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 Herculaneum. This wonderfully preserved wall painting shows the different colored blocks.





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 Met Museum) from Boscoreale contains Greek theater masks. The cubiculum walls have these architectural elements (columns and porticos) which frame architectural vistas. There is also an enormous villa painted on the walls, creating the impression that the viewer is in an expensive and elaborate villa and looking out to another through this wall painting. In this sense, this wall painting also functions to show the wealth of the villa owner, P.F. Synistor. However, the wall paintings also show the sophistication of the villa owner because of the references to ancient Greece. The Romans considered Greece a model society and so they had as many references to Hellenistic Greece in their villas (which is something they could not do in the more conservative Roman houses in the city.) The painting and sculpture that was modeled after Greek stylistic elements and traditions would afford the owner with the opportunity to speak about Greece and show his knowledge, therefore communicating his sophistication.


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 Pompeii. Notice in the painting the very thin and unrealistic columns that frame the central image. These columns also can be seen in the upper portion of the painting.


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 Pompeii. Notice how the staged mythological scenes are painted in such a way that makes it seem like a picture gallery. Also, notice the architectural structure to the left and right of the central images on the two walls that are shown. These structures are realistic and frame a view into a space that extends beyond the wall, much like the second style.


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.

60 comments:

  1. Anonymous18:31

    hahahaahha

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous22:59

    Was all that above just the same person? but...wait..then...have I become that person also??

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous10:31

    me too

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous16:17

    The left was never the right, albeit senseless.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous14:15

    what's really going on, iz everyonelooney on this cite OMG!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Anonymous22:56

    Thanks! :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anonymous21:54

    Extremely helpful, well organized.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous10:16

      what is rome?

      Delete
    2. Anonymous10:17

      Go to sleep matthias

      Delete
    3. Anonymous10:18

      MOM LEAVE ME ALONE!

      Delete
    4. Anonymous10:29

      You have a test tomorrow and need your sleep.

      Delete
    5. Anonymous17:10

      lol this just made me die

      Delete
  8. Anonymous21:28

    I have a test on this stuff tomorrow, thanks for the help!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous10:28

      No problem!

      Delete
  9. Anonymous22:39

    Good source of information

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous08:06

      'Theatrical' style

      Delete
  10. The fourth style does not have a different name like the others?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous00:12

      I've been told "fantastic style" is another way.

      Delete
  11. Anonymous16:27

    Very good description on all four styles. Just a question though, did August Mau's work at Pompeii involve anything else in addition to the four styles?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Anonymous23:07

    Its very informatic a great effort thnx for sharing .

    ReplyDelete
  13. Anonymous07:48

    Very helpful as a basis for further research.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anonymous15:40

    Well written. Thank you

    ReplyDelete
  15. Anonymous09:34

    Very helpful I have a essay due sun. On this

    ReplyDelete
  16. Anonymous22:52

    OMG U R MY SAVIOR!!! I ALMOST FAILED MY TEST IF U HAD`NT MADE THIS PAGE!!! BUT I GOT A B-. MI WORST MARK I EVER GOT BUT STILL I PASSED!!!!
    THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! THE INFO IS AWESOME! UR SO DESCRIPTIVE!!! MI TEST HAD EVERYTHING U HAD ON THIS CITE!!!! THANK U SOOOO MUCH

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous23:02

      what a liar

      Delete
  17. Anonymous16:47

    this was really useful :D thx so much !!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Anonymous04:52

    The best I have come accross . I do thank you for sharing

    ReplyDelete
  19. Anonymous14:13

    Great informative post, but review your grammar. I think you made a few typos.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Anonymous08:09

    WOW PEOPLE JUST GIVE THE PERSON A BREAK!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Anonymous15:41

    art...this s**t sucks..the only reason i'm here is because i had homework

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous18:06

      That is just what I was thinking

      Delete
  22. Anonymous14:28

    YOU SUCK ^^

    ReplyDelete
  23. Anonymous09:25

    This was very useful in determining not only the second style of Roman mural paintings but the other three.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Anonymous11:20

    just wondering if the forth style has a specific name?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous09:19

      any refer to it as "Intricate Style"

      Delete
  25. If you want to make your home really look really beautiful , paintings are the best way to do it believe home looks very well decorated . If you are looking to find Oil Paintings Reproductions at very economical price or cheap rates, you must visit wahooart.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous17:12

      no one cares

      Delete
  26. "Fully qualified and insured, the team at Keyora are committed to providing the very best in service and product with every project."
    Painting Plastering

    ReplyDelete
  27. Anonymous06:10

    This was very useful in determining not only the second style of Roman mural paintings but the other three.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Anonymous00:11

    The fourth style is called the intricate style

    ReplyDelete
  29. Anonymous12:35

    you are all so annoying

    ReplyDelete
  30. Thanks very much for providing great information here... I like your blog. Thanks very much and keep posting. I'm looking forward to your new posts.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Anonymous09:00

    Thanks for the info. Really useful and easy to pick out the key bits I needed. The best site I've seen on the four styles. Thank you :)

    ReplyDelete
  32. Anonymous16:18

    Thank you so much. This is exactly what I needed (I'm doing a Latin report). I think it's awesome that you are an art history major. That's what I want to major in (I'm only in middle school now, though). Anyway, thank you for having this page!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous14:01

      I'm doing something for latin to

      Delete
  33. O M'Kay my niggas NOLO

    ReplyDelete
  34. Anonymous08:38

    You are really helpful. All of the haters are just mad because they don't understand art the way you and I do.

    ReplyDelete
  35. awesome! It's true haven't seen you put much painting up here in a while, but really sweet!
    painters edmonton

    painting contractor edmonton

    ReplyDelete
  36. Anonymous07:41

    Helpful as I have to include this in a GCSE this week. much better explained than wiki.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Awe-inspiring blogs, I love reading your articles. modern wallpaper trend

    ReplyDelete
  38. Anonymous10:09

    Great Article Very Helpful

    ReplyDelete
  39. Anonymous10:01

    suck me !!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THIS WEBSITE SUCKS!@#@!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  40. Anonymous07:24

    Thank you I found this information very helpful

    ReplyDelete
  41. thank you for helping me to do my google presentation

    ReplyDelete
  42. Thanks a lot...it helped lots in exam!! :)

    ReplyDelete
  43. thank you :D helped me write an essay :"D

    ReplyDelete
  44. Anonymous12:51

    I don t know why I am studying ART class while I am taking IT degree , this education fuke us by teaching us what we don t really need in today life... the scam us under education protocol. shame on us

    ReplyDelete
  45. When it comes to decorating, choosing paint color can really be a challenge. While you may feel that there are so many choices you're bound to find the right one. Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  46. This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.
    painters adelaide

    ReplyDelete
  47. This is a great post. I like this topic.This site has lots of advantage.I found many interesting things from this site. It helps me in many ways.Thanks for posting this again.
    Spraying Service

    ReplyDelete