Third Pompeian Style (20BC)

The Third Style, also called the Ornate Style, became famous as a reaction to the austerity of the previous styles.

Villa de Popea (Oplontis): Wall painting of a temple. Various vivid blues, reds and golds cover the wall. The paint is fading off as well.
Villa in Oplontis,(Villa de Popea (Oplontis) the modern Torre Annunziata near Naples in Campania, Italy.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/e7ae8e8b-4c42-4d83-bacc-c5c6f2af8702 by pablocabezos

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. Many times, it wants to represent great finesse in executions. The style is often referred to as simplistically elegant.


It dealt with strict rules and symmetry through 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.

Naples Museum 143: Painting of a villa on a stone slab. The painting is on a red-brown wall with various artistic accents.
Detail of third style wall painting from the Villa of Agrippa Postumus. Boscotrecase, Italy. Ca. 10 BC. Fresco.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/b142e667-9a36-4720-b040-6c2fc2a942fa by Amphipolis

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

National Museum 28: Wall painting with various blues, gold and reds. Columns are depicted with picture frames on the wall held up by statues.
Villa Farnesina, Rome, Italy, 20 BC.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/df66849a-35d1-4ef3-9431-3f91cc688fc0 by Amphipolis

National Museum 50: Wall paintings of statues with various vivid blues, reds and golds. Simplistic yet ornate.
Villa Farnesina, Rome, Italy, 20 BC.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/d5217555-8365-447b-b1c9-11d5f586fb31 by Amphipolis

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, stylized columns and pediments that could only exist in an alternate reality.

The Roman architect Vitruvius was not an enthusiast about the Third Style painting, and he criticized the paintings for representing monstrosities rather than real things. He said, “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.

Pompeii House of the Vettii 23: Wall painting in the third pompeian style.
Pompeii House of the Vettii

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/e7882e1c-c963-4658-9edf-663c5ea5e083

Pompeii House of the Vettii: Wall painting of a man with his back toward the viewer. In the right corner there is a big white horse and in the top left there is a person sitting in a white outfit. There is a third person in the bottom left of the photo working.
Pompeii House of the Vettii

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/0782ba45-0f67-4ab8-9de7-7990655b6364


Info source: https://depts.washington.edu/hrome/Authors/ninamil7/TheFourStylesofRomanWallPaintings/pub_zbarticle_view_printable.html

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