Tuesday, 27 November 2012

First impressions: ROOM 18 (viridarium)

House of Orpheus, Pompeii
Looking north from the viridarium
Photo by V. Vitale 2012

Unlike other houses in Pompeii, the House of Orpheus has an almost proper perystilium. It was quite common (at least in Pompeii) pretending to have a big and expensive house arranging carefully the elements that people were able to see from the street or from the tablinum. It is not rare in Pompeii to see houses with just two or three columns, but placed in a way to trick the passers by and let them believe that they were looking at an entire colonnade.

It is not the case of the Houseof Orpheus. The owner was rich enough to afford two whole sides of a perystilium. The half colonnade is large enough (7 columns on two sides) to allow visual access to the garden from both the tablinum and the triclinium (that are on the same vertical line). Both the two spaces offer a view on the house’s most precious decoration (straight view from the tablinum, diagonal view from the triclinium).

House of Orpheus
Old undated photograph. Courtesy of Society
 of Antiquaries. Fox Collection
From pompeiiinpictures
The slightly diagonal arrangement of the entrance corridor may seem an oddity until it is not considered as an element of the visual line that passes through the atrium (with the fountain), through the tablinum, the viridarium and ends on the big frescoed wall. The fresco’s decoration with plant, birds and animals was very likely to interact graciously with the real plants (and probably real animals like little birds or butterflies) of the garden. Moreover, the painted water in the landscape was probably interacting, on a echoing game of real and fictional, with the water sprouting from the fountain. 

Today, the trees and the plants (mostly myrtle) grown in the garden make quite difficult to see clearly the architectonical elements in the garden. It seems to be a water feature in opus signinum running around the edge of the viridarium. 

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