The Art of Ancient Civilizations

Reproduced by Thomas Baker

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Villa of the Mysteries reproduced by Thomas Baker

"Roman Wall Mural, Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii"

Reproduction of an ancient Roman fresco by Thomas Baker

Oil on plastered wood panel, 36 X 40 inches

Original painted ca. 60 BC

This painting is available for purchase: $6500

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In 79 AD the volcano Vesuvius erupted and buried the Roman town of Pompeii on the Bay of Naples, creating the most famous time capsule ever known. Peasants digging a well in the late 1500's rediscovered the city, and excavations have continued intermittently ever since. In the dining room of one Pompeian villa, the walls were found to be decorated all the way around with mysterious scenes of which this panel is a part. This section of the mural shows a kneeling woman bending over the lap of a seated one, while two others attend them, one dancing and playing castanets, the other holding a wand called a thyrsus. On the original painting, one corner of the room is at left, just beyond the feet of the kneeling woman (i.e. at the left edge of this panel), and on the adjacent wall, out of this picture at left, another woman wields a whip that she is using on the back of the kneeling woman. Archaeologists speculate that this scene illustrates some sort of initiation into the mysteries of a woman's cult, which apparently involved a ceremonial whipping ("to ensure fertility," conjectures one source, typically)--hence they named the house "The Villa of the Mysteries." It is a strange theme, at any rate, with which to decorate a dining room.

The unknown artist who painted this mural around 60 BC shows himself to be in complete command of the principles of perspective, and as capable of accurately rendering the human form and drapery as any realist painter of a thousand years later. His style is, in fact, better than that of many later Renaissance painters, and for that matter better than most painters of today. Had not the Dark Ages squelched artistic progress in the centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire, we undoubtedly would have had Michelangelos and Leonardo Da Vincis much sooner than we did. As it was, with Europe's descent into barbarism after Rome's demise, many centuries were to pass before the art of the painter regained this level of sophistication. In this reproduction, I have repaired cracks and other damage to the original mural and brightened the faded colors to what they probably would have looked like when fresh.

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