Painter at Work!

Painter at Work from the House of the Surgeon in Pompeii, Room L, East Wall, central section, 1st century AD, Fresco, 45×45.4 cm, National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy – Credit: Image © Photographic Archive, National Archaeological Museum of Naples https://isaw.nyu.edu/exhibitions/pompeii-in-color/objects/painter

Pompeii in Color: The Life of Roman Painting Exhibition at the New York University Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (through May 29, 2022) presents thirty-five frescoes from the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Among these important works, all originally from Roman homes is a favorite painting of mine, titled Painter at Work! It comes from the Pompeian House of the Surgeon, and it is a Gem! https://isaw.nyu.edu/exhibitions/pompeii-in-color

The amazing Pompeian fresco of a female painter immersed in her work… observed and admired… “bathed” in “aubergine” tones, attracts our attention, and captivates our eyes. The Questions and Answers that follow, will hopefully help us solve hidden clues, understand the fresco’s importance, and enjoy its charm!

Where was the Fresco titled Painter at Work discovered?

The fresco was found in the House of the Surgeon, in the ancient city of Pompeii, located in the Bay of Naples, or as Cicero would call it, the “the crater of all delights.” Pompeii was the favorite vacation spot of the Roman elite. Roman Emperors and their wives, members of the old aristocracy, and representatives of the new money elite were all, more than enthusiastic to live or vacation on the Neapolitan coast. The name of the House’s owner may not be known, but a toolkit of bronze and iron surgical instruments discovered during excavations is responsible for its modern name.   https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/roman-splendor-in-pompeii-59083755/

Specific facts about When and Where the House of the Surgeon was built: The House of the Surgeon or Casa del Chirurgo is one of the oldest Italic Houses in the city. It was excavated back in 1771 by the Spanish military architect and archaeologist Francesco La Vega. It is located on the East side of the ancient city (Regio VI, Insula i, Doorway 10), about 50 meters inside the Herculaneum Gate, and dates from the Samnite period, between the 3rd and the early 2nd century BC. At the time of the eruption of 79 AD, the House had fallen into a poor state and was undergoing considerable repair work. https://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue23/3/case_study.html and https://interactive.archaeology.org/pompeii/field/11.html

House of the Surgeon in Pompeii, Italy
https://www.storieparallele.it/la-casa-del-chirurgo-di-pompei/

Where was the fresco of the female Painter at Work discovered? The House of the Surgeon was, once, lavishly decorated with frescoes of the 4th Pompeian Style. Room L, next to the House’s Hortus (Garden), seems special. This is the Room where the Painter at Work fresco was discovered in 1771. The painting was detached, it was considered a protection procedure at the time, and is now exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, as a framed panel.

Engraving of the Frescoed East Wall of Room L in the House of the Surgeon, in Pompeii. The central painted panel depicts the Painter at Work
Le pitture antiche d’Ercolano, Tomo Setimo, Tabola LXXXII, pag. 365, Napoli : nella regia stamperia, 1757, TH-Bibliothek Zürich https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Delle_antichit%C3%A0_di_Ercolano,_1757-1779_(T._I-VII)_70388_(23839904461).jpg

Describe the Composition: Painter at Work is a wall decoration of a seated woman absorbed in the art of painting! It was discovered in 1771, during the early excavations, in Room L of the House of the Surgeon, in Pompeii. The painting was, at the time, removed, and now is exhibited in the Archaeological Museum in Naples. We do not know the name of the artist who created it, nor the name of the depicted female painter… they are both anonymous, but they both strike us as talented and unique! The portrayed artist sits comfortably on a stool, dramatically framed by a window opening to the sky. The window is bordered by two pillars/posts and is decorated with garlands and a Bucranium. In a faint distance, we can discern a Herm and a Vase standing on a pillar, both typical Hellenistic landscape motives.

The portrayed artist is about to finish her painting of a sculpture that stands in front of her. Her hand reaches back with her paintbrush to a box of pigments balancing on a cylindrical stand… is it the drum of a column? She is looking at the statue of a bearded man… is he God Dionysus as some scholars have suggested? Immersed in her work she is about to put the final touches on her painting placed on the floor directly beneath its model, held by a wreathed boy… is he Cupid? Behind the left Pillar, two richly dressed women stand, looking interested… are they friends, admirers, or sponsors? We can only guess…

There is so much I admire in this small painting! The noble theme of a painting dedicated to the Art of Painting, and thee, by a female artist… The idea of a painting within a painting, with the extra addition of a second small painting hanging on the right pillar… The amazing color scheme employed by the artist, muted aubergine tones and soft sky blues…the atmospheric perspective… and the fainted Hellenistic landscape. This is a grand painting in small size! http://www.pompeiiincolor.com/theme/the-fantastic-and-the-familiar

For more Questions and Answers, please… Check HERE!

Villa Arianna’s Dionysus and Ariadne Fresco

Lying in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius… Stabiae is home to a group of enormous, sea-edge, Villae Marittimae, which are set on a cliff above the modern town of Castellammare di Stabia. We know of at least six of these villas, built directly next to one another—a sort of Roman high-rent resort district next to the small town of Stabiae. They were beautifully preserved by the eruption of 79 A.D., with standing walls, some of the highest quality frescoes surviving from antiquity, and some of the most innovative garden architecture in the Roman world. On the 13th of October I presented you with information on Villa Arianna, today, on the 11th of December… let’s discuss Villa Arianna’s Dionysus and Ariadne Fresco. https://www.baslibrary.org/archaeology-odyssey/8/1/5

Ariadne on Naxos, 4th Pompeian Style Fresco, Villa Arianna grand Triclinium, Room No. 3, 1st century AD, Stabiae, Italy
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Triclinio_3_di_Villa_Arianna#/media/File:Mito_ri_Arianna.jpg
Villa Arianna Areal View
https://www.stabiaholidayhouse.it/en/visit-to-the-ancient-stabiae/
 Villa Arianna Plan, Stabiae (after Kockel 1985 with corrections by Allroggen-Bedel A. and De Vos M.) https://www.pompeiiinpictures.com/pompeiiinpictures/VF/Villa_102%20Stabiae%20Villa%20Arianna%20plan.htm

Villa Arianna was lavishly decorated with frescoes and portable furnishings, an undisputed testimony of the expensive lifestyle the owners enjoyed, and evidence of their refined taste and style. One such high-quality fresco, drawing inspiration from the myth of Dionysus and Ariadne, gave the Villa its modern name.

Ιmagine the scene… Theseus and Ariadne flee Crete in a hurry. With the help of Ariadne, Theseus had just killed the horrible Minotaur in the depths of Knossos’s palace maze. Their first stop to rest on their way to Athens is the island of Naxos… where the story unfolds dramatically and excitingly. God Dionysus, in love with Ariadne, appears to Theseus in his sleep and convinces him to abandon Ariadne at Naxos and continue his trip alone. Ariadne, unaware of divine intervention disembarks at Naxos enchanted by the beauty of the island, happily explores it, and tired falls asleep on the beautiful islet of Palatia. When she wakes up… god Dionysus, the son of Zeus and Dione, looks at her adoringly and a new love affair is in the making. A glorious wedding follows and an eternal gift is still with us to admire… the constellation known as Corona Borealis is said to be Dionysus’s wedding gift to Ariadne, a special ornament to adorn her beautiful head.

Please take the time to look at the Villa’s Plan, locate Room 3, and imagine a December Symposium night two thousand years ago…

Villa Arianna’s Dionysus and Ariadne Fresco is a small part of Villa’s grand Triclinium decoration. Room 3 is decorated in the 4th Pompeian Style, elaborate and complex as it can be, combining large-scale Narrative Painting, small Panoramic Vistas, and Still Lifes, within an architectural fantasy of pedestals, aediculae, columns, entablatures, and… theatrical masks! The Villa’s grand Triclinium decoration doesn’t resemble any believable space but instead consists of a variety of architectural elements arranged in an unrealistic manner with an unrealistic perspective, set against a flat background. The three large mythological scenes framed in blue on a yellow and red ground above a lower red and black decorative frieze are the room’s main artistic attraction. A panel presenting the myth of Dionysus and Ariadne decorates the South Wall, a rare scene of Lycurgus and Ambrosia is presented on the West Wall, and on the East Wall, the unknown master painter of the grand Triclinium presented the myth of Zeus and Ganymede. https://depts.washington.edu/hrome/Authors/ninamil7/TheFourStylesofRomanWallPaintings/pub_zbarticle_view_printable.html

Room number 3 was Villa Arianna’s grand Triclinium… the main dining room of a luxurious Roman residence, so-called because of the three banqueting couches (klinai) arranged around the walls. All you have to do is… imagine a warm summer night, overlooking the Bay of Naples, in the company of good friends, bathed in the flickering light, and content with scrumptious food… If you were the owner of Villa Arianna, life was good!

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Ariadne on Naxos, 4th Pompeian Style Fresco, Villa Arianna grand Triclinium – South Wall, (Room No. 3 on the Villa Plan), 1st century AD, Stabiae, Italy
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stabiae#/media/File:Villa_Arianna_(Stabia)_WLM_099.JPG
Ariadne on Naxos (detail – Mask  and Landscape scene), 4th Pompeian Style Fresco, Villa Arianna grand Triclinium – South Wall, ( (Room No. 3 on the Villa Plan), 1st century AD, Stabiae, Italy
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Triclinio_3_di_Villa_Arianna#/media/File:Affresco_particolare_7.jpg