Third Pompeian Style ( 20BC )

The Third Style, also called Ornate Style, became famous because it wanted to react against the austerity of the previous styles.

Villa in Oplontis, Torre Annunziata
Villa in Oplontis, the modern Torre Annunziata.

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Landscape and Architectural Decorative Forms

The Third style is a reaction to the austerity of the previous period. It features more figurative and decorations full of colors and details, with an overall ornamental sensibility, and many times it wants to represent great finesse in executions. This style is typically famous as simplistically elegant.

It dealt with strict rules and symmetry was dictated by the main element, that divided the wall into 3 horizontal and 3 to 5 vertical zones. The vertical zones would later be divided because of the use of geometric motifs or slender columns, light motifs of birds, or semi-fantastical animals depicted in the background. Plants and Egyptian animals were often used to enrich the whole painting.

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

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These paintings were improved with soft linear motives, often monochromatic, that took the place of the three-dimensional world of the Second Style.  The picture below is an example in the Villa of Livia in Prima Porta near Rome.

Pompeian wall painting, in Villa Farnesina, Rome
Villa Farnesina, Rome, Italy, 20 BC.

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Fantasy and Architecture

The Third Style was still architectural but rather than depicting plausible architectural elements that could be experienced in the everyday world, it was all about fantastic and stylized columns and pediments that could only exist in an imagined wall.

The Roman architect Vitruvius was not an enthusiast about 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).

Mythological scenes, landscapes, temples, rolling hills were commonly used in the Third Style.

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

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

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