Third Pompeian Style ( 20BC )

Third Style “ornamental” dates from the Augustan period at the end of the first century BC. Abandoning Style II realistic architecture and open vistas, Style III closed up the walls to create a “picture gallery” effect.

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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The Mau’s “Ornate Style”came about in the early 1st century C.E. and was popular until about 50 C.E.; embraced the flat surface of the wall through the use of broad, monochromatic planes of color, such as black or dark red, punctuated by minute, intricate details.

In this style, which could be dubbed thetapestry stylerectangular areas of solid colour are the dominant visual effect. Each rectangle is sparsely covered with fine decorative elements (e.g. arabesques, miniature figures), yielding the overall impression of a wall covered in large, lightly embroidered tapestries.

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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Sometimes a realistic scene is embedded among the tapestries, as though it were a framed painting hanging on the wall.

Typically a large central picture would be flanked by a smaller picture on each side. Architecture becomes attenuated, insubstantial, and fragmentary; elongated candelabrae often replace the earlier painted columns.

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

Here, 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 two-dimensional background of black, red, or white.

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

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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), the Third Style 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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The center of walls often feature very small vignettes, such as sacro-idyllic landscapes, which are bucolic scenes of the countryside featuring livestock, shepherds, temples, shrines and rolling hills.

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

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