Elegant blue frescoes, work tools emerge at Pompeii

The ongoing excavation of Insula 10 of Pompeii’s Regio IX neighborhood has uncovered a room with walls frescoed in an unusual and sublime sky blue. The shade is rarely found in Pompeii’s wide array of frescoes. When it has been found, it was in spaces of great importance.

The walls of the room are painted in the Fourth Style, characterized by subtle ornamentation, fine architectural details and mythological characters. Against the azure background, female figures pose gracefully, their garments blowing in the breeze. Four of the women represent the seasons. Two are allegories of agriculture and pastoralism, the former indicated by a plow, the latter by the pedum, a short staff used by shepherds.

Archaeologists believe the room was a sacrarium, a space dedicated to ritual activities and objects. Niches in each wall painted with vivid red cinnabar likely held devotional statues. It was probably not being actively used for its religious purpose when Vesuvius did what it did in 79 A.D. The house was undergoing construction at the time, and the beautiful blue room was just another storage area. Fifteen transport amphorae were leaning against one wall. Two bronze jugs and lamps were found, and building materials for the renovation. A giant pile of oyster shells was on the threshold, not the detritus of a large lunchtime raw bar, but rather raw material to be chopped up and added to plaster and mortar.

Meanwhile, in the servants quarters of the villa of Civita Giuliana, another exceptional discovery of work tools and supplies shows how the other half lived. There are no glorious frescoes in this small space. This is bare bones construction, and the organic materials it contained are only preserved through the technique of plaster casting.

A bed, a dismantled frame (perhaps from a second bed), baskets, a long coiled rope, pieces of wood leaning against the wall and a saw with a blade all left cavities in the hardened volcanic ash. When the objects decayed, they left a strong imprint of themselves in the ash that had encased them. Archaeologists at Pompeii fill the voids with plaster and recreate the objects in incredible detail.

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