House of the Vettii

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A drawing of paintings in the Ixion room

In Pompeii one of the most famous of the luxurious residences (domus) is the so-called House of the Vettii, preserved like the rest of the Roman city by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The house is named for its owners, two successful freedmen: Aulus Vettius Conviva, an Augustalis, and Aulus Vettius Restitutus.[1] Its careful excavation[2] has preserved almost all of the wall frescos, which were completed following the earthquake of 62 AD, in the manner art historians term the "Pompeiian Fourth Style."

Plan[edit]

Reconstruction of the peristyle (without fresco decor), made for an exhibition in the Boboli Gardens, 2007

The House of the Vettii is located on a back street, opposite a bar. The house is built round two compluviums, centers open to the sky, a dim atrium into which a visitor would pass, coming from a small dark vestibule that led from the street entrance,[3] and beyond—perpendicular to the entrance axis—a daylit peristyle of fluted Doric columns surrounded on all sides by a richly frescoed portico, with the more formal spaces opening onto it. Servants' quarters are to one side off the atrium, arranged round a small atrium of their own. The major fresco decorations enliven the peristyle and its living spaces (oeci) and the triclinium or dining hall.

In the entrance foyer the prosperous and almost life-size image of Priapus weighs his erection which protrudes from beneath his tunic against a bag overflowing with coins in a set of scales that he holds. Throughout the house, the decor is unified by the black backgrounds of its large frescoed panels, in "Pompeiian" red and yellow framing, with fanciful architectural surrounds. Also throughout the house were images of hermaphrodites with the intention to ward off the Evil Eye of envy from those who entered the home. In one oecus, a frieze at sitting height, in monochrome against black grounds, show putti and infant psyches engaged in various trades, wine-making, goldsmithing or minting coins, perfume-pressing and similar occupations. The most richly-decorated room is a virtual picture gallery, with trompe l'oeil views of architecture.

Mural of a flying figure in the House of the Vettii. Photograph taken circa 1900, before modern restoration.

The peristyle was laid out symmetrically for an elaborate water display. It had basins and fountains where carved heads spat water into basins, and other sculpture, both marble ones of Bacchus and satyrs and Paris carrying a lamb[4] and three bronzes of cupids, each holding a goose and a bunch of grapes. The statues were connected to lead piping and spouted water. There are 14 jets of water.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Their identity was preserved in campaign-slogan graffiti on the street front of the house. Two inscribed signet rings were also found.
  2. ^ The House of the Vettii was not one of the eighteenth-century discoveries, which were rifled for their museum-worthy objects. It was excavated between September 1894 and January 1896. There is evidence that the house was disturbed, perhaps looted, shortly after the eruption.
  3. ^ Around the corner there is a second entrance, which led to a shop that communicated with the rest of the house through a narrow passage.
  4. ^ This subject is often identified as a Christ

References[edit]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • R. Etienne, Pompeii. The Day a City Died (London 1986; 3rd ed. 1994)
  • R. Laurence, Roman Pompeii: Space and Society (London, 1994)
  • A. Wallace-Hadrill, Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum (Princeton, 1994)

Coordinates: 40°45′07″N 14°29′04″E / 40.7520833333°N 14.4845833333°E / 40.7520833333; 14.4845833333