Room A

The dominating room of the Villa Imperiale was and is Sala A, the reception
and banqueting room, which is one of the largest halls in Pompeii.
The generous dimensions of 6 m in width, 7.5 m in length and 8 m in height bear the influence of the noble spirit of the owner who built the Villa. The style and highest level of culture of the owner as well as of the artists and studios involved are reflected by the decoration programme and its artistic implementation in the Third and Fourth Styles.

The ceilings of the vestibule and of the large vaulted hall are decorated with stucco caskets and paintings in the Fourth Style on a black background. These were added after the earthquake of 62 AD, i.e. before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, whilst the damaged elements were reconstructed almost in the original form in the existing Augustian decoration areas. Many of the floors, which were made out of various coloured types of marble and integrated into the style of the rooms, have been removed or have not survived. In room A the opus sectile floor was already removed in ancient times (?). In any case the archaeologists did not find any further traces of it. The same is true for room B. The mosaic floor of C is still in place.


Today the main impressions of Sala A are formed by the walls with an
ornamental pedestal area, above which runs a frieze with figures consisting of bacchanalian scenes, winged eroses and psyches. Above them are large
vermillion panels which have become dark due to the warm ash of the eruption of the volcano and which are accentuated by ornamental ribands. These are emphasised vertically by thin pillars which are crowned in the bright upper wall area above by generous triple capitals on which girls stand decorated with flowers and holding garlands. At the centre of each wall there are in each case large mythological pictures in marvellously painted architectural frames.

From a subject point of view, the three pictures depict a cycle with reference to Crete: on the rear wall the children of Athens thank Theseus for their salvation and the killing of Minotaurus. In the picture on the left wall Theseus leaves Ariadne on Naxos and in the picture on the wall on ther right Dedalus hovers over the body of his son Icarus, which lies shattered on the shore. They find their literary expression in a"dance" of poets, which is shown in six folding screen pictures, the much beloved Pinakes, in the brighter picture area above. All the cultural activities are emphasised joyfully in the lower friezes and are completed in the upper black area through elegant paintings of the Fourth Style.

The fineness of the painting is convincing both in its total composition as
well as above all in its detail in spite of the catastrophic state of the
preservation of certain elements.

The beauty of our nymph by itself (a natural divinity or an allegory of transitoriness?), who is weeping over the death of Icarus, captivates the observer fully and fills the whole room. It is so convincing that it demands our full commitment for the maintenance of this overall work of art. The head inclined to the side in a melancholy fashion with its classical profile is surrounded by brown curls which are decorated by a wreath of flowers with woven roses. The blue-green gown covers her very feminine body. All the more effective is the emotive charm of her naked neckline adorned with a golden chain and the naked arm which is covered by a very thin transparent upper garment, which is fastened by small pearls on which light reflections can still be seen.

The muscular body of Daedalos, as a powerful counterpart, soars with huge spread wings above the rocks, sea and the beach on which the lifeless body of
Icarus is swept. "Daidalos", written in Greek letters, is in the centre of the picture as well as the main personalities of the other pictures. The cycle of Cretian themes was extraordinarily common in Pompeii, certainly because these constituted a mythical relationship to the region.

 
 

The central picture on the East wall, which is seen immediately, shows the "murder of the Minotaurus by Theseus", which has already taken place. One can recognise the figure of the hero who is naked apart from a cloak (unfortunately headless due to the condition of preservation), whose hand is being kissed by one of the thankful Athens youths; at his feet lies the slain monster. Two nymphs are present at the scene and the one on the left is seen as the reflecting repetition of the grieving nymph. The distant Athens is depicted by a green Athena statue in the background, which reminds one of the large bronze sculpture of Athena Promachos. The almost 17 metre high sacred bronze sculpture, which shows the goddess as a pioneer, was created by the great sculptor Phidias for the Acropolis.

Two thirds of the third mythological representation in the North wall has unfortunately been destroyed. One recognises on the right side of the picture only the fleeing Theseus again naked apart from a cloak, who is being helped into a boat by a helmeted warrior. The magnificent Aedicula is better preserved and is flanked by a double pillar structure and is decorated with a richly decorated pediment. Decorated bases and in between a predella with bacchantic scenes as the lower frieze, ornamental ribands around the pillars and the whole work painted in a brilliant perspective and with three-dimensional effect. Perhaps even more magnificent is the pendant on the other side with its many refined details up to the architrave area above the pillars, on which maritime centaurs form the crowning finale with raised hooves.

The similarity of these mural paintings with contemporary or previous paintings in Rome has already been recognised early. This style of decoration was invented in the court art studios of the capital. "It left substantial traces in the cities around Vesuvius; there one can comprehend it again as the immediate link to the Farnesina studio and in particular to the so-called Villa Imperiale, whose owner we unfortunately do not know. The effects of the villa in Rome are processed here in a totally different manner and are more lively in colorite and more strongly in relief than the paintings in Boscotrecase. Several details, however, such as the girl holding the garland in the large oecus, form such impressive parallels to the Farnesina villa that one cannot doubt a direct relationship" (Theodor Kraus, Das Römische Reich, Propyläen Kunstgeschichte, Volume 2, Berlin 1967, Page 55). The Boscotrecase villas mentioned in the neighbourhood of Pompeii and the Farnesina in Rome were the leaders for the Third Style. This is also true for the "programme structuration". The antique tradition was revived again in the princely
decoration programmes of the Renaissance. Humanists, who were trained
specially for this, were employed in order to learn the artists paint moral virtues, bravery and the glorious origins through the suitable historical and mythological choice of subjects.

In the reception hall the guest was shown the social and spiritual spectrum of the owner. The large paintings from the Cretian cycle are an expression and declaration to the classical Greek tradition and give meaning and dignity to the ambiance. The "dance" of poets is certainly to be understood as an indication of the culture of the owner of the Villa and should have led to intellectual exchanges.

The following are shown in the upper bright picture area on the North wall
(according to Pappalardo) :

1. Bearded poet with muse, the patron goddess of poetry, who sits attentively
and listens ; in the centre a servant with a pedum, a staff and a comical mask
as an illusion to the comedy poet (Aristophanes ?).
2. Poet with a sitting muse and in the centre a tragic mask (Euripides ?).

On the Eastern rear wall :
3. Alkaios with lyre, a stringed instrument, and Sappho with a papyrus roll.
The popular Greek lyric singer from Mytilene on Lesbos, where Sappho was also
at home, is shown with the same person as a representative of the Aiolean
Melos, which is a single song sung with the lyre.
4. Four crowned poets, with one of them sitting (Homer and the Cyclicer ?).

On the Southern wall:
5. On the cline, a couch for lying, which was also used for eating, a
sitting poetess with two servants (Corinna ?).
6. Sitting poet with lyre (Pindar ?), next to him two muses and a servant.

The homage to the gods obviously had to be included and they find their
expression in friezes and predellas such as through the activity of psyches
and eroses, which worship Diana, Aphrodite or Dionysius with hunting scenes,
manufacture of perfume or bacchanalian scenes.


Other rooms in the Villa Imperiale

The bedroom - (cubiculum B)

The ground plan of the room is indicative of its function : a bed was set up in a somewhat raised alcove leading to the narrow side. From here one could enjoy the view of the Gulf of Naples and the green mountains of Stabiae through three high and wide windows. The white background of the mural paintings gives the room a bright character relating to the joyful view of the blue sea. As in room A, the white background decorations from the period around 20 BC give the impression of a rich interior architecture with thin and highly prominent pillars, baldachins and candelabras between which decorative
garlands are hung. A panel with figures was certainly again painted below the round arch, but today it is unfortunately lost. Even more charming is the painted decoration as well as the bell hanging from a round arch, which is silver on the inside and gold on the outside, the small miniature architectures placed on the small wall and the rectangular panel pictures with mythological scenes. Among these one recognises a representation of the meeting between the huntress Atalante and the hero Meleager, who gave her the skin of the Calydonic boar which he had killed.


The dining-room (triclinium C)

Receptions and festive banquets also took place in this large and high room.
The centre of the decoration is again dominated by large pictures framed in baldachins on the three walls with red backgrounds. Other than in room A, no scenes were depicted with large figures from Greek mythology, but instead extensive wide landscapes under a clear blue sky. The roaming eye discovers, when the picture on the North wall is examined more closely, a waterfall descending from a mountain and a round temple constructed in this idyllic place with an altar and a statuette of Pan. Not far from that is also the god of the shepherds himself in a red-brown shaggy skin. He has raised up his arms due to his surprise and joy about the Menade slumbering before him. The observer sees the back of the Menade naked up to the upper thighs of this half-naked female figure. Lively and contrasting colorite and the subject of the picture remind one of paintings of Carl Blechen and other romanticists of the 19th century.

The interior courtyard (peristyle D)

The arcade with a view on the second garden had a black pedestal and red panels. The rear walls of the surrounding portical were used here as a pinacotheque. In the upper area of the wall Greek myths were depicted in regular succession with a countryside background. The paintings were framed festively with girls holding garlands at the sides. The representation of the "Seven against Thebes" shows the battle between Eteocles and Polyneikes for the city of Thebes in front of the ranks of armoured warriors. The son of Oedipus and Iocaste had marched with the seven as part of the struggle for the dominance of Thebes against his brother Eteocles, whereby both fell in the battle. A nymph with amphora at the left lower corner of the picture is depicted as the protectress of the seven gates of Thebes and two women behind as Electra and Antigone, who are present at the battle of Eteocles and Polyneikes. The subject of the second picture is the killing of the children of Niobe by Apollo and Artemis. The very fragmentary vestiges of the scene are set in a mountainous countryside with an Apollan sanctuary. The avenging goddess Artemis is dressed in a chiton, the belted lower garment with a cloak donned like a sail, and pulls the golden bow and shoots her deathly arrows at the children of Niobe who are engaged in hunting.

Whilst these two pictures are located in room C, the third one is still in the
portical. It shows the punishment of the Dirk and is also located in Thebes.
Dirk is bound to a bull by the sons of Antiope due to the bad treatment of their mother and dragged to death. Unfortunately the picture has almost completely disappeared today and one recognises only the silhouette of the Dirk, who is being dragged by the bull.