Second Pompeian Style ( 90BC )

The Second Style, also called the “Architectural Style”, can be recognized by its three-dimensional elements. It is an extension of the First Pompeian Style.

Fresco showing fruit bowl, jar of wine, jar of raisins, from the House of Julia Felix in Pompeii, Naples National Archaeological Museum
Roman painting. Second Pompeian Style, from the House of Julia Felix in Pompeii.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/43cb8aa7-603a-41ab-8e2d-c64414d3b618 by Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany

The Context

The Second style or “illusionism” uses decorated walls with architectural features and “trick of the eye” compositions. Many elements resemble the First Style, but the style has unique features as well. The technique is about highlighting elements to appear three-dimensional. This style was a famous way of painting in ancient Rome.

Fresco of a Seated Woman playing a Kithara from the reception hall of the villa of P Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale Italy Late Roman Republican Period 50-40 BCE
Seated woman playing a kithara. From Room H of the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale, ca. 40–30 B.C.; Late Republican Roman. Wall painting fresco.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/db7c87dd-4287-4a8d-8103-d428c8f1695b by mharrsch

Cubiculum (bedroom) from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale
Cubiculum (bedroom) from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/514cb6b7-bc35-41c2-b66b-451d29993311

It also features relative perspective, to give the idea of the “trompe l’oeil” in painting on the walls. The picture plane was pushed to the back of the wall by painted architectonic features such as Ionic columns or stage platforms. These wall paintings were used to widen the spaces in windowless Roman mansions.

Cubiculum (bedroom) from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale
Cubiculum (bedroom) from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/fbda81fd-9e09-4acc-ae1a-8ee58fb83e41

Images and landscapes began to be painted in the First style and then gained importance with illusionistic and architectonic motives. The decoration was used to create an important impression of depth. The landscape elements, in the end, covered the whole wall, so it looked as if the viewer was looking at a real scene. As the Second Style matured, the goal became to paint scenes of nature. Depth comes from the use of atmospheric perspective.

The Three Style Phases

Cubiculum (bedroom) from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale: Wall painting of a villa, there is a red column painted on the left and various rectangular buildings on the right.
Cubiculum (bedroom) from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/8874bd77-8409-4eff-ba3b-d6897f95ba43

Cubiculum (bedroom) from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale
Cubiculum (bedroom) from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/9f144034-be13-4695-ae91-867e0afae783

It is possible to distinguish several phases of the style:

PHASE 1: The first phase of the Second Style was the introduction of depth as the main feature. It often included painted columns in front of an imitation marble wall or an illusionist perspective ceiling.

PHASE 2: In the second phase of the Second Style, painters started to experiment with more difficult ways of conceiving perspectives. The walls of the room went back into the painted space, which created the illusion of a room inside another.

PHASE 3: In this final Second Style phase, the whole wall was painted as illusionist architecture with arches, vaults, and columns. Further, this phase introduced many exotic themes, such as painted griffins, sphinxes, and fantastic creatures.

Fresco from the triclinium of the villa of Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus, 30-20 BCE; Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome
Villa of Livia , 1st century BC.- Fresco from the triclinium of the villa of Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus, 30-20 BCE; Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/5cae7d30-0ac7-40f9-a471-97d6ca6c2d00 by Prof. Mortel

Fresco from the triclinium of the villa of Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus, 30-20 BCE; Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome: Wall painting of a white bird (left) sitting on a tree branch. The branch has various yellow-colored fruit.
Fresco from the triclinium of the villa of Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus, 30-20 BCE; Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/71a07d99-e665-42f7-b836-c7baa44b3a7b by Prof. Mortel

This style opened up the wall by giving an illusion of windows and porticoes which looked outward to imaginary scenes painted with realistic shading and perspective. Often, these scenes created the illusion that one is looking through a window to the outdoors. Painted architecture, in this style, was heavy and substantial, with a multipoint perspective.

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, which is now hosted in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Archaeological Museum of Naples.

Cubiculum (bedroom) from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale: Vivid wall painting of a outside courtyard. There are two red painted columns in the center of the photo with a gold statue in the middle. Various vines and trees fill the background of the photo. Moreover, there are gold accents throughout the painting.
Fresco wall painting in a cubiculum (bedroom); Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/f2b385bc-c9f7-4805-8767-8a765c65bfab


Info sources: http://www.essential-humanities.net/western-art/painting/roman/

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