The Second Style, also referred to as the “Architectural Style”, was described in detail by Vitruvius. It was used in Pompeii between 80 and 20 BC (although it developed earlier in Rome). It was recognizable by the use of architectural elements painted in three dimensions. It developed out of the First Style and incorporated elements of the First, such as faux marble blocks along the base of walls.
Images and landscapes began to be introduced to the first style around 90 BC, and gained ground from 70 BC onwards, along with illusionistic and architectonic motives. Decoration had to give the greatest possible impression of depth. Imitations of images appeared, at first in the higher section, then (after 50 BC) in the background of landscapes which provided a stage for mythological stories, theatrical masks, or decorations. The style evolved during the reign of Augustus.
False architectural elements opened up wide expanses with which to paint artistic compositions. A structure inspired by stage sets developed, whereby one large central tableau is flanked by two smaller ones. In this style, the illusionistic tendency continued, with a ‘breaking up‘ of walls with painted architectural elements or scenes.
The landscape elements eventually took over to cover the entire wall, with no framing device, so it looked to the viewer as if he or she was merely looking out of a room onto a real scene.
Basically, the more developed Second Style was the antithesis of the First Style.
The Three Style Phases
Scholars divide this style into several phases:
PHASE 1: The first phase of the Second Style simply added depth to First Style wall painting. It often featured columns painted in front of an imitation marble wall or an illusionistic perspectival ceiling.
PHASE 2: In the second phase of the Second Style, painters began to experiment with more daring perspectives. The walls of the room recessed further into the painted space, providing the illusion of a room within a room.
PHASE 3: In this final Second Style phase, the entire wall of a room was painted as illusionistic architecture featuring arches, vaults, and columns. This phase also introduced the use of many exotic themes, like painted griffins, sphinxes, and fantastic creatures.
This style opened up the wall by providing an illusion of windows and porticos which looked outward onto imaginary scenes painted with realistic shading and deep perspective, creating the illusion that one is looking through the wall at a scene beyond. Painted architecture in this style tended towards the heavy and substantial, with multi-point perspective sometimes giving an Escher-like effect.
The Second Style Heritage
Examples of the Second Style are in the triclinium of the Villa Oplonti, in the Villa of the Mysteries, and frescoes from the Villa of Boscoreale, now housed at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Archaeological Museum of Naples.
Boscoreale – an area about a mile north of Pompeii, was notable in antiquity for having numerous aristocratic country villas.