Friday, April 9, 2021

Roman interior design: The use of the color yellow

According to Greek mythology, the sun-god Helios wore yellow robes and rode in a golden chariot drawn by four fiery horses across the heavenly firmament. The radiant yellow light of the sun personified his divine wisdom. Yellow was also associated with gold and therefore wealth so was a popular color for interior decoration.

"The Romans called yellow ochre ‘sil’, and recognised four variants, in decreasing order of quality. Sil atticum, of Greek origin, was highly sought-after for the decoration of buildings, though due to the presence of limonite in its composition, it dehydrated and turned red when heated, as happened in many of the wall paintings of Pompeii as a result of the tremendous heat of the eruption of 79 CE."

"Sil marmorosum was considered the most suited and widespread ochre for fresco painting.  Sil pressum, which was dark, is a clay containing manganese oxide, corresponding to Sienna or Umber, and finally we have sil lucidum Galliae."

"A lead-based yellow pigment called spuma argenti was also used, which derived its name from being found in silver mines. Yellow was also obtained by roasting lead-rich minerals, in which case it was called puteolanum, or ‘from Pozzuoli’" -  From Pompeii sites. 

Pliny the Elder mentions a vegetable yellow color he termed "holochrysi." A golden color was also extracted from naturally occuring sulphuret of arsenic known as orpiment.  Orpiment was mined in Hungary, Macedonia, along on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, and in Syria. Its Latin name, auripigmentum, means “gold pigment.”  A container of this arsenic extract was found in the Baths of Titus and mentioned by Theophrastus in his writings according to the 1852 text, "Ancient and Modern Colours: From the Earliest Periods to the Present Time" by William Linton.

Fourth Style Wall Painting (c. 20 AD to c. 79 AD): Wall painting at the House of Vestals, Pompeii, display at Archaeological museum Naples. (PD)

Cubiculum from the villa of P. Fannius Synistor in Boscoreale, thought to have been originally painted between 40-30 BCE recreated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Triclinium (Room G) from a Roman villa at Boscoreale courtesy of Stanton Abbott Associates

Fourth Style Wall Painting (c. 20 CE to c. 79 CE): Wall painting at Room of Pentheus, the House of Vettii, Pompeii courtesy of Pompeii sites.

Roundel with putteolanum background from Pompeii courtesy of Pompeii Sites.

An example of a fresco with sil atticum background in the House of Menander in Pompeii, courtesy of Pompeii Sites.

Fresco of a harp player from a Villa at the foot of Mount Vesuvius (First century CE) (PD)

Atrium of the House of Menander in Pompeii with Sil atticum turned red from the heat of the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius on the edge of the left wall courtesy of Pompeii sites

The highly toxic arsenic trisulphide known as orpiment courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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