First Pompeian Style (200 BC)

With the First Pompeian Style, artists were  inspired by marble and precious stones. They used bold colors to suggest richness and importance.

Calatayud Museum Roman cubiculum: Corner of a room with various rectangular stones in the walls. There are two distinct rows of stone.
Calatayud Museum – Roman cubiculum 50 b.C. – Aragona, Spain. Reconstruction of a fresco in the First Pompeian style.

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Painting as an Illusion

The First style, masonry style, is characterized by the simulation of marble veneering, with other elements taken from other cultures, like alabaster discs with vertical lines, wooden beams in yellow, and pillars and cornices in white. It also employs vivid color, which was considered a sign of richness.

Actaeon in the House of Menander, Pompeii. A painting of two men, one who is working the land on the right and the other who is standing still.
Wall fresco depicting the myth of Actaeon in the House of Menander, Pompeii

Image source: by Following Hadrian

This style used to divide walls into several patterns, which replaced much more expensive cut stones. The First Style created fusions with other artistic techniques to decorate the bottom, less important parts of the walls. The image below is a depiction of such, found in the Ptolemaic palaces, where the walls were colorful marble stones.

House of Sallust -Pompeii. Wall laid with colored marble stone (yellows, reds, and greens occupy most of the photo).
The House of Sallust – Pompeii – remaining First Style decoration

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To create the illusion of a wall composed of blocks, stucco was first applied to the wall and the shapes of stone blocks were made into pilasters and moldings.  Artisans then covered up the stucco in many colorful marble-like patterns with paint. These affordable wall paintings were still not cheap substitutes. Creating these paintings required several hours of hard work.

Greece to Rome

Ptolemaic palaces inspired the style, where walls were inset with real stones and marbles. They used bold colors to resemble precious materials. This idea was a simulation of the art of Hellenistic kingdoms in the late 4th to early 3rd century B.C. The Ptolemaic loved luxury in general and expressed this passion through the Greek style of its magnificent and luxurious complexes.

Decoration at Cheaper Cost

Ordinary Romans could not afford expensive materials to improve the look of the walls inside their estates, so they decorated their homes with painted imitations of the luxurious yellow, purple and pink marbles. Painters became good at imitating marbles, and rectangular slabs worked pretty well on the walls, often veined as real pieces of stone.

Herculaneum - Casa del Colonnato Tuscanico: example of the marble-like paintings. There are rectangles of blue, red and white that occupy the top half of the wall.
The Samnite House, Herculaneum.

Image source: by ell brown

Herculaneum - Cardo IV Inferiore - Casa di Nettuno e Anfitrite - mosaics. A fading depiction of the mosaic pieces made above a single archway.
The Samnite House, Herculaneum.- Cardo IV Inferiore – Casa di Nettuno e Anfitrite – mosaics

Image source: by ell brown

Great examples of the First Pompeian Style are the House of the Faun and the House of Sallust, both of which are located in Pompeii. The House of the Faun, built during the 2nd century BC, was one of the most important private estates in Pompeii due to the artistic relics found inside the mansion.

House of the Faun: Ruins of the building sit on the right top of the photo. On the bottom left there is a small statue of a faun surrounded by a rope-fence.
House of the Faun, Pompeii

Image source: by kudumomo

Alexander the Great fighting at the battle of Issus against Darius III of Persia (Close Up) painting.
Alexander the Great fighting at the battle of Issus against Darius III of Persia, Persian Empire (Close Up)

Image source: by kudumomo

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