Monday, June 11, 2007

Boscoreale Wall Paintings Featured in Renovated Greco-Roman Galleries at the Met

I am heading home today from my first visit to New York City and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. To say I almost suffered an art meltdown is an understatement! I spent two full days at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (and still only saw a fraction of the art there!) and was thrilled to discover they have a number of wall frescoes from villas in Boscoreale. They're quite stunning and I notice the women in them were painted with the wide eyes seen in many Greco-Roman mummy portraits from Egypt. They made me even more excited about seeing Boscoreale in person in October!

"Boscoreale, an area about a mile north of Pompeii, was notable in antiquity for having numerous aristocratic country villas. This tradition endured into the time of the Bourbon kings, as is attested by the region's name, the "Royal Forest," which implies that Boscoreale was a hunting preserve. Some of the most important wall paintings surviving from antiquity come from a Roman villa at Boscoreale built shortly after the middle of the first century B.C. The villa, which was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D., is referred to as the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor, one of its owners during the first half part of the first century A.D. Excavated in the early 1900s, the villa's frescoes are among the most important to be found anywhere in the Roman world.

The villa at Boscoreale is a variant of the so-called villa rustica, a country house of which only a small part functioned as a farmhouse (pars rustica). The majority of the villa served as a residence for the owner, a member of that class of wealthy Roman citizens who owned more properties of this kind and used them as country houses. The painted decoration of the villa at Boscoreale, which was executed sometime around 40–30 B.C., attests to the original owner as a rich man with exquisite taste. The fact that the mid-first-century B.C. decoration was not replaced by another, more contemporary, decoration in the first century A.D. is a clear indication that there was already an awareness of the quality of the frescoes in antiquity.

The surviving paintings are extremely fine examples of the late Second Style, the most renowned style in Roman wall painting. Throughout the frescoes from the villa at Boscoreale there are visual ambiguities to tease the eye, including architectural details painted to resemble real ones, such as rusticated masonry, pillars, and columns that cast shadows into the viewer's space, and more conventional trompe l'oeil devices, such as three-dimensional meanders. Objects of daily life were depicted in such a way as to seem real, with metal and glass vases on shelves and tables appearing to project out from the wall. Cumulatively, these trompe l'oeil devices reveal the Republican owner's evident pleasure in impressing guests at his comfortable summer retreat." - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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