chapter  21
13 Pages

DOMESTIC DECORATION: Mosaics and stucco

ByJohn R. Clarke

Throughout the documented history of domestic decoration at Pompeii,1 twothemes remain constant: the coordination of floor, wall and ceiling decoration, and the relation of these ensembles of mosaic, painting and stucco to the function of the spaces they adorned (cf. Strocka, Ch. 20).2 The coordination of systems for decorating the interior surfaces of the Roman house developed logically from domestic construction techniques. Houses were built on a “slab” made of pounded earth and cement, and all walls and ceilings of a house received a coating of plaster. The articulation of that coating helped determine the character of each space. Two basic approaches characterized the decoration of walls-either emphasizing solid surfaces by sheathing them with real or painted imitations of precious colored marbles (the First Style), or opening them up with perspective schemes seeming to recede behind the physical boundary of the wall (Second Style). Likewise, owners decorated floors either as flat surfaces, or set elaborately framed illusionistic mosaic pictures into them. Because Roman interior decoration used permanent materials (fresco on plaster walls and ceilings, stucco moldings, and mosaic or cement floors), and because owners often took special pains to preserve rooms decorated in earlier styles as “period rooms,”3

scholars have been able to chart with great accuracy the fashions in Roman interior design from 200 BC through AD 79.