First Pompeian Style ( 200 BC )

In the First Pompeian Style, artists inspired themselves to marble or precious stones, using bold colors to suggest richness and importance.


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

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 Painting as an Illusion


The First style was also structural or 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 uses vivid color which was considered a sign of richness.

This style used to divide walls into several patterns used to replace much more expensive cut stones. The First Style was also used to create fusions with other conceivings of art to decorate the bottom parts of the walls that were not important as the higher ones. The image below is a replica of that found in the Ptolemaic palaces, where the walls were made colorful with real marble stones.


The litographs of the Atrium of the House of Sallust
Colour lithographs of the decoration of the atrium of the House of Sallust, Pompeii.

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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 given to it and pilasters and moldings.  Artisans then used paint to cover up the stucco in many colorful marble-like patterns. These wall paintings were affordable but they were not considered cheap substitutes.  Creating these paintings required several hours of hard work.


From Greece to Rome

This style was inspired by the Ptolemaic palaces, where walls were inset with real stones and marbles. They used bold colors to recall 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 in its magnificent and luxurious complexes.

The House of Sallust in Pompeii.
The House of Sallust in Pompeii, from the second century.

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Quality 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 developed good skills in imitating marbles and rectangular slabs were rendered pretty well on the walls and looked as marbled and veined as real pieces of stone.


Painting in the Samnite House, Herculaneum, late second century BCE, imitated marble panels with stucco relief.
The Samnite House, Herculaneum.

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Great examples of the First Pompeian Style are the House of the Faun and the House of Sallust, places that you can visit in Pompeii. The House of the Faun was built during the 2nd century BC, it was one of the most important private estates in Pompeii talking about the artistic relics found inside the mansion.


Picture of the House of The Faun, Pompeii
House of the Faun, Pompeii

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