Four Styles of Roman Wall Painting and Mosaics

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A. Mau, a German scholar, established four distinct styles of Roman wall painting at the sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Boscoreal, and other smaller sites covered with ash from the volcanic eruption at Mount Vesuvius. The styles begin with one direction, shift completely, and end on a more combined technique.

Style I, known as incrustation, began approximately during the second century b.c. This style features the strong influence of the Hellenistic Greek period in its surface decoration. At the Samnite House at Herculaneum, walls are painted as faux marble slabs. This is very typical of the influence of Hellenistic Greece. There is a three fold division of a Roman wall during this time. The dado is at the bottom, the middle section imitates the stone slabs, and the upper part features a cornice and frieze. The slabs are outlined with stucco. The wall surface is concrete covered with plaster to create the fresco. This style enhances the flatness of the wall, with panels that imitate masonry. These surfaces mock the stone veneers that may have been seen in more upper class homes. Many small rooms in this style appear to be busy and claustrophobic due to every surface being covered in bright color.

Very different from Style I, Style II, also known as architectonic, focuses on the illusion of creating a three dimensional scene from a two dimensional space. Illusionistic and naturalistic, it is common to see scenes that are rich and lifelike, with strong use of chiaroscuro, and linear perspective. The faux marble is replaced by landscape scenes, though more so later in the period. Some scenes feature ritualistic events deriving form Hellenistic myths and theater.

The Idyllic Landscape wall painting from Pompeii, c. 79 AD, features sacred buildings and figures. There is a depiction of the love of nature and of peace and reflection in these pieces; a strong sense of what idealistic life meant to the people at this time. This style, which originated around 90 b.c. in Rome, centers on images framed by illusionistically painting columns. At the House of the Griffins, corinthian capitalized columns surround a portico. There are painted panels of marble set between two columns.

Style III, the ornamental style, moved to a new focus on framing and gallery imagery. Mimicking Style I, walls are richly painted in bright red, yellow, and black, enclosing the room's space. Unlike previous styles, the focus now is on elaboration and detail. Walls are divided into small panels with support framed paintings. Because paintings are now individual, there is greater ease at decorating and rooms can now be reworked much quicker and with greater ease. Oecus, at Pompeii, c. 63-79 AD is an example of this style. There is a panel depicting Hercules fighting off snakes in a gallery style room. Much of the work from this time reflects these ancient Hellenistic themes from mythology.

After the earthquake of AD 62, Pompeiian homes were rebuilt and redecorated in what is called Style IV by Mau. This style focuses on intricacies, and as in previous styles, more and more elaborate scenes continue to be created at this point. The detail of Achilles and Chiron from the basilica at Herculanuem, a fresco from the first century AD, truly feels the way style IV was meant to: true rich detail, the perfection of the craft. An accurate depiction of their world was created in home across the region. There is a strong sense of how light plays off objects. Landscapes are more realistic and the details are more important.

Style IV confines three dimensional images to two dimensional framed spaces like an exhibition. Images in a room are generally unrelated, but use strong aerial perspective and accurate detail. Rich architectural framing completed the look of this style which combined all others to this final point.

Mosaics were used widely during the Hellenistic period of Greece, but became widely popular for home decoration...
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