Aldobrandini Wedding

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The Aldobrandini Wedding (Nozze Aldobrandini) fresco is an influential Ancient Roman painting on display in the Vatican Museum.

Original Fresco
Pietro Santi Bartoli copy
Veiled bride (detail).


The fresco was discovered about the year 1600 from the masonry of a house near the Arch of Gallienus on the Esquiline Hill. It was in possession of the Aldobrandini family until 1818, when it was purchased by the Vatican authorities. Until the 19th century, this was one of the few and most influential paintings from the early Roman empire, and generated much interest and scholarship including engravings by Pietro Santi Bartoli (1635–1700), and attention by Winckelmann, Karl Böttiger, and others. There are many elaborate competing interpretations of the scene.[1][2][3]

Description, interpretation and style[edit]

The painting, broken at the ends, is part of the frieze of the wall decoration in the third style of a domus of the Esquiline Hill. It did not occupy the central position of the decoration, but it had to be at the top of the wall on which it was painted.

There appear ten people, in three areas on the same line, whose action takes place both in the internal and exterior. In the area of the left and in the middle of two walls contiguous united by an offset to the far left indicate clearly that the characters represented are located in two distinct environments; differently in the presence of the right of the sky as a background to the ground qualification a scene that takes place outside the same household, the threshold of which is outlined in the lower center, in perspective, the top of the wall that is the backdrop to the central area.

In the scene on the left, a Roman matron with white cloak, veiled head and flabellum, appears to test the temperature of the water poured into a small washing lustral supported by a pedestal, from which hangs a towel and in which a maid seems to pour other water; in the background a many with an elongated object is not well defined, perhaps a stool. At the foot of the column is an object made of overlapping tablets, probably a cassette.

In the central scene, bordered by the pillar angle between the two walls and the threshold of the house, a woman with legs crossed (Charis, or, more likely, Peitho, goddess of persuasion), with sandals, leans against a pillar, and is intent on pour essences from an Alabastron over a shell valve supported with the left hand. On cloth-covered bed sits the bride, with head veiled and dressed in a white coat and yellow shoes, and another female figure (Venus), bare-chested and with sandals, affectionately embracing the first and the approaches right hand to the face gently. At the foot of the bed a young half-naked (Hymen, god of marriage), with a cloak wrapped around his waist and head wreathed with ivy, lies on the doorstep and observes the scene of loving persuasion that takes place at his right.

In the far right scene, outdoors, three young women stand around an incense burner supported by a tripod; the woman turned of three quarters, with headdress, is intent on pouring the essences from a patera, while in the center, with radiated crown of leaves (of palm ?) turns towards the female musician with a seven string lyre with hanging from his neck and plectrum in his right hand. In the group the Three Muses are easily recognizable.

The classic interpretation of the work, devised by the classical scholar Winckelmann, is that the scene depicts the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, parents of the hero Achilles. A second hypothesis, formulated in the 18th century by Luigi Dutens, is that the scene is the marriage of Alexander the Great and Roxana. These interpretations were pre-eminent until 1994, when Frank Müller proposed a scene from the play Hippolytus by Euripides as a guide for the correct reading of the fresco. Others have proposed some passages of Alcestis as defining the scene.

Setting aside these mythologic-literary interpretations, it is clear that the sequence relates to a wedding, with a focus on the universal anxiety experienced by ayoung bride, comforted and supported by Venus, waiting to meet the bridegroom and lose her virginity. The two side scenes help to integrate this interpretation more generalist work, which is of course possible only a partial reading because of the fragmentary nature we have received; the scene on the left, with the matron that controls the temperature of the water in the basin, probably alludes to the ceremony of accepting the bride in her husband's house (aqua et igni accipi, acceptance of water and fire) according to the Roman tradition of deductio in domum mariti, while the scene to the right, is interpreted as a sacrifice for auspicious fortune, possibly in the presence of the recumbent god (Hymen) and the lira, to the wedding song that accompanied the bride into her new home.

The formal language and style of the work suggest the work dates to the early Augustean age, and by inserting it in the context of the neo-Attic currents, without there necessarily being based on a drawing of an earlier 4th-century Hellenistic painting, has always assumed and researched by scholars.