Third Pompeian Style ( 20BC )

The Third Style, also called Ornate Style, was popular around 20-10 BC as a reaction to the austerity of the previous period. It left room for more figurative and colorful decoration. This style was typically noted as simplistically elegant.

Villa in Oplontis, the modern Torre Annunziata near Naples in Campania, Italy. It shows one wall of the Caldarium, room 8. The motif in the middle represents Herakles in the garden of the Hesperides.

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Landscape and Architectural Decorative Forms

In this style, there is a closing up of space. Illusion is rejected in favor of ornamentation. Largely monochromatic walls were often painted with a few pieces of architecture. For instance, candelabra or slender columns were used to divide the wall into separate sections. These sections then supported smaller, framed paintings, set up in the fashion of an art gallery. One benefit of this style of wall paintings was that it gave artists and patrons more flexibility to change their designs.

Fresco artists created restrained compositions that focused on elegant decorative forms. Delicate vegetal and architectural motifs as well as small, detailed landscape vignettes were selectively placed against a twodimensional background of black, red, or white. .

Detail of third style wall painting from the Villa of Agrippa Postumus. Boscotrecase, Italy. Ca. 10 BCE. Fresco.
Detail of third style wall painting from the Villa of Agrippa Postumus. Boscotrecase, Italy. Ca. 10 BCE. Fresco.

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Instead of having to re-paint the entire wall, an artist could decide to just change one of the framed pictures if he so desired. As time progressed, the style of wall paintings became even less architecturally realistic and more of a mixture of styles.

It was a clear reaction against the illusionism of the preceding Style.

Pompeian wall painting, architecture and illusionistic decoration in the third style.
Villa Farnesina, Rome, Italy, 20 BC.

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Fantasy and Architecture

The Third Style was still architectural but rather than implementing plausible architectural elements that viewers would see in their everyday world (and that would function in an engineering sense). It incorporated fantastic and stylized columns and pediments that could only exist in the imagined space of a painted wall.

The Roman architect Vitruvius was certainly not a fan of Third Style painting, and he criticized the paintings for representing monstrosities rather than real things, “for instance, reeds are put in the place of columns, fluted appendages with curly leaves and volutes, instead of pediments, candelabra supporting representations of shrines, and on top of their pediments numerous tender stalks and volutes growing up from the roots and having human figures senselessly seated upon them…” (Vitr.De arch.VII.5.3)

 House of Vettii, an example of third style wall painting.
House of Vettii, Pompeii,italy.

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Mythological scenes, landscapes, temples, rolling hills were common features of the Third Style.

It also saw the introduction of Egyptian themes and imagery, including scenes  of the Nile as well as Egyptian deities and motifs.