New Well-Preserved Paintings Discovered at Pompeii Amid Ongoing Excavations

Pompeii remains a city of wonders rising from the ashes. Excavations at the site have taken place since the 18th century in spurts. As a new excavation, which began about a year ago, progresses, more evidence of ancient Roman life in the city continue to emerge. The latest breathtaking discovery is a hall with stunning fresco paintings depicting scenes of mythology. The small figural scenes float on a background painted black, giving it the apt nickname of “the black room” within the large and expensive home. Such a discovery has led to crucial preservation efforts to make sure the stunning scenes are protected from the elements.

The room is found within a rich man's home, likely belonging to Aulus Rustius Verus, based on his repeated monogram found around the home. Dr. Sophie Hay, of the Pompeii Archeological Park, told the BBC: “We know him from other political propaganda in Pompeii. He's a politician. He's super-rich. We think he may be the one who owns the posh house behind the bakery and the laundry.” Within the living quarters was a gorgeous reception hall painted in red with illustrated columns. The black room itself has a rich white mosaic floor, very well preserved over the centuries. Beside the residential areas is a separate bakery and laundry, the former of which has recently yielded sobering evidence of enslaved, imprisoned labor.

The walls of the black room may have been so decorated to disguise smoke stains from lighting. Its panels, outlined in white, feature figural groupings. The style is known as Third Style frescos which would have been popular right before the explosion of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. One can spy Apollo, the god, trying to seduce a disinterested Cassandra, a priestess. Paris kidnaps Helen of Troy, kicking off the Trojan war, while a sad looking dog looks on. And Zeus poses as a swan to enchant Queen Leda of Sparta in a truly beautiful artistic rendering.

While dining in the 20-foot-by-49-foot space, director Dr. Gabriel Zuchtriegel told the BBC, “In the shimmering light, the paintings would have almost come to life.” Preservation is underway—covering sites from the elements, injecting glue behind frescos so they do not fall apart, and generally preserving these astonishing pieces of history.

An ongoing dig at the ancient city of Pompeii keeps turning up new exciting finds—including a room painted black with frescoes telling mythological stories.

Apollo, Cassandra, Paris, and Helen of Troy all appear.

The room is part of a large house, richly decorated, which was clearly under construction at the time of the volcanic eruption.


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h/t: [Hyperallergic, BBC]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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