First Pompeian Style ( 200 BC )

In the First Pompeian Style, also known as the “masonry style”, fresco artists simulated marble and other masonry or painted plaster, using bold colours to suggest different types of costly stones.  Often it simulated the relief technique called “opus quadratum”, used to coat the marbles exterior walls of public and religious buildings.


 Painting an Illusion

Roman cubiculum 50 b.C. - From Bilbilis, Insula I, Domus 2, Aragona, Spain. Reconstruction of a fresco in the First Pompeian style.
Calatayud Museum – Roman cubiculum 50 b.C. – From Bilbilis, Insula I, Domus 2, Aragona, Spain. Reconstruction of a fresco in the First Pompeian style.

image source: http://www.essential-humanities.net/western-art/painting/roman/

To create the illusion of a wall composed of blocks, stucco was first applied to the wall and carved into the shapes of stone blocks, pilasters, or moldings.  Artisans then applied paint over the stucco in a variety of colorful marbling patterns.


The painted blocks divided the wall into sections, providing a socle, or dado, on the bottom, with several courses of painted stone and friezes above.  Although the wall paintings were less expensive than importing real marbles, they were not considered cheap substitutes.  Creating these paintings required a great deal of time and skills.

From Greece to Rome

The House of Sallust in Pompeii, from the second century BCE, Incrustation Style (first), Wall-Painting, Casa Sannitica (Samnite), Herculaneum, Naples, Italy.
The House of Sallust in Pompeii, from the second century BCE, Incrustation Style (first), Wall-Painting, Casa Sannitica (Samnite), Herculaneum, Naples, Italy.

image source: http://www.accla.org/actaaccla/ramage.html

This style was a replica of that found in the Ptolemaic palaces, where the walls were inset with real stones and marble. Using bold colors to suggest different types of costly stone, this style looked back to paintings and architecture created in the Hellenistic kingdoms in the late 4th to early 3rd century B.C. 

Quality Decoration at Cheaper Cost

First Style wall painting in the “fauces” of the Samnite House, Herculaneum, late second century BCE, imitated marble panels with stucco relief.
First Style wall painting in the “fauces” of the Samnite House, Herculaneum, late second century BCE, imitated marble panels with stucco relief.

image source: http://www.accla.org/actaaccla/ramage.html

Ordinary Romans could not afford such expense, so they decorated their homes with painted imitations of the luxurious yellow, purple and pink marbles. Painters became so skilled at imitating certain marbles that the large, rectangular slabs were rendered on the wall marbled and veined, just like real pieces of stone.

The First Style was also used with other styles for decorating the lower sections of walls that were not seen as much as the higher levels.

Great examples of the First Pompeian Style can be found in the House of the Faun and the House of Sallust, both of which can still be visited in Pompeii.

Haus of the Faun – built during the 2nd century BC, it was one of the largest and most impressive private recidences in Pompeii, Italy, and housed many great pieces of art.

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