Saturday, February 23, 2008

Remembering the Domestic Charm and Intimacy of Pompeii's Frescoes

I first went to Italy when I used to live in Europe. I traveled on my own all over the country for just over 6 weeks. By train and bus. Visiting Rome, Milan, Ravenna, Florence, Perugia, San Gimignano, Sienna, Assisi, Bologna, Venice, Vicenza, Verona, Naples and Pompeii. It was an amazingly intense experience - and I was pretty buggered (and not in a good way) when I got back home to London.

One of the things I most remember are the beautiful life-sized frescoes in the Villa of the Mysteries at Pompeii, which as everyone knows disappeared with the Vesuvius eruption of 24 August 79 AD, only to be re-discovered in 1748.

There is much debate over what the frescoes depict. Some say the initiation through specific rites and rituals of a woman into the cult of Dionysus. Others, the rituals involved with preparing a young woman for the transition into married life. Whatever, it's the domestic charm and intimacy of the scenes I loved. With their subtlety of observation of how emotions are expressed.

The part of the cycle I now recall best is that with the woman dramatically swirling her cape in the air, her left hand raised and fingers elegantly splayed out - on the extreme right ...

... and the boy intently but glumly reading his scroll, while his mother gently and encouragingly rubs his right ear between her fingers, another volume rolled up and ready in her other hand ...

... and finally the detail of the strange bug-eyed figure looking in through the open door at the boy peering into a bowl - on the far left.

Two other things captured my imagination at the time.

The first were the local bars or 'thermopolia', looking as though they had just opened, ready for the business of selling wine and hot food from their terracotta containers or 'dolia' sunk into masonry counters.

And the second the death casts of Pompeiians we are all very familiar with.

What I've enjoyed most about this post has been googling the images of these old 'friends'.

Makes me want to grab my big leather Kenneth Cole shoulder bag and jump on the first plane to Italy!


  1. Afew years agao i went with my now ex to pompeii too. and the rotel with the tow entrances was fun. he was very exotic looking and yoused to stand by the door looking "enticing"

    popea's villa at Oplontis is wonderful and its free

    i first went when i 13 and i cam back buggered too. on more than one occation in that holliday

  2. hey david, luck to be buggered at 13 - but seriously, i missed popea's villa at Oplontis - next time! hope going to pompeii didn't cause your break-up!

  3. 25, 2008 at 6:07 AM

    thank you, no it didnt cause my break up! (i had money then!)the whore house had two Entrances. in fact they series HBO Rome (I & II) most of its graffitii came from pompeii. the house of the vetti? well in rome the city, in a some old papers they were mentioned as two old green boys (rent gay boys)who had retired there with lots of money and a hotel for men who liked boys is at ostia too