The dominating room of the Villa Imperiale was and is Sala A, the reception
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
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
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
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
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
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
1. Bearded poet with muse, the patron goddess
of poetry, who sits attentively
On the Eastern rear wall :
On the Southern wall:
The homage to the gods obviously had to be included
and they find their
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
Receptions and festive banquets
also took place in this large and high room.
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