Large Pompeii fresco restored to former splendour

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The intense colours of the large fresco of the garden of the House of the Ceii glow once more, following major restoration works on the decorative elements.

Large Pompeii fresco restored to former splendour

Large Pompeii fresco restored to former splendour
The fresco before and after restoration [Credit: Archaeological Park of Pompeii]




Just like a film which had faded with time and then been restored, the large painting which decorates the back wall of the garden of this house returns to life in all of its splendour and vividness, revealing a hunting scene with wild animals, alongside Egyptianised landscapes, populated by Pygmies and beasts of the Nile Delta, depicted on the side walls.

Large Pompeii fresco restored to former splendour

Large Pompeii fresco restored to former splendour
Credit: Archaeological Park of Pompeii

Such scenes were not uncommon in the decoration of perimeter walls in Pompeian gardens, and served to create the illusion of expanding the size of the area, and evoking an idyllic and evocative atmosphere. In this case, the likelihood is that the subject of the painting indicated a specific link and interest on the part of the owner of the domus towards the Egyptian world and indeed the cult of Isis, which was particularly widespread at Pompeii in the final years of the city.

Large Pompeii fresco restored to former splendour

Large Pompeii fresco restored to former splendour
Credit: Archaeological Park of Pompeii




Due to a lack of adequate maintenance and the employment of unsuitable restoration practices over the years, the paintings and frescoes have experienced a steady deterioration, particularly in the lower sections which are most susceptible to humidity. Thanks to a highly complex operation, it has been possible to clean the paint film by means of a laser, which allowed us to clean significant portions of the painting, particularly in the section which features the botanical decoration of the fresco. The abraded parts of the painting were recovered through careful retouching of the fresco. Measures were also taken in order to avoid any future infiltration of rainwater and to adequately preserve the area. The intervention was carried out using the ordinary funds of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii.

Large Pompeii fresco restored to former splendour

Large Pompeii fresco restored to former splendour
Credit: Archaeological Park of Pompeii

The House of the Ceii, excavated between 1913 and 1914, is one of the rare examples of an ancient dwelling of the late Samnite period (2nd century BC). Ownership of the domus has been attributed to the magistrate Lucius Ceius Secundus, on the basis of a painted electoral inscription found on the exterior of the house. The façade of the domus, with its  imitation opus quadratum white stucco design and the high doorway crowned by cubic capitals, is typical of the severe appearance which a mid-level house of the late Samnite period (2nd century BC) must have had. At the centre of the unusual tetrastyle atrium we find the basin of the impluvium, made with cut amphora fragments according to a technique which was widespread in Greece but which at Pompeii is found in only a single other context, namely the House of the Ancient Hunt.

Large Pompeii fresco restored to former splendour

Large Pompeii fresco restored to former splendour
Credit: Archaeological Park of Pompeii




In previous years, the domus had been the subject of interventions aimed at redevelopment, the regimentation of rainwater and maintenance of the roofing, which had become necessary on account of its steady loss of functionality and which over the course of the years was exposing the rooms below – characterised by decorated plaster and highly precious flooring –  to the serious risk of deterioration. The original layout of the house has been partially recreated, with the repositioning of the marble table and the wellhead in the atrium, where the cast of a cupboard and of an access door to the house are also visible. In the kitchen, meanwhile, a small household grinder is visibile.

Restoration intervention on the decorative elements

Unfortunately over the course of the previous century, the lack of adequate maintenance and indeed several unsuitable restoration practices had resulted in a progressive deterioration of these decorative elements which had gradually extended across the surface, as a result of which when conservators were finally able to begin this work there was a fairly serious situation to address, particularly with regard to the lower parts of the fresco, which are the most vulnerable to degradation phenomena including rising damp, which, by bringing with it soluble salts that give rise to efflorescence on the paint layer, causes very serious and unfortunately permanent damage, even up to the loss of the paint layer, and therefore there was a need for a thorough and highly complex intervention.

Specifically the most difficult interventions to carry out were, first of all, that of consolidation because there were a series of detachments at all levels of the stratification of the plaster and also at the level of the paint layer, but then above all the cleaning, because there were very stubborn deposits on the surface of the paint layer, for which it was necessary to carry out both chemical and mechanical cleaning. Ultimately it was also necessary to employ a laser, because only in this way were conservators able to recover sections, primarily but not exclusively in the lower part, also on the hunting scene, where there were substances which resisted any other form of intervention.

And so a significant part of this botanical decoration on the lower part of the fresco was recovered, which previously was scarcely visible and entirely covered by these overlying deposits. Another important phase of the intervention involved actually protecting the room from atmospheric elements, by sealing these gaps which were found between the roofing and the tops of the walls, and which allowed rainwater to enter the room as soon as there was any wind, as well as the ancient openings such as this space which connected the room with the viridarium and the two windows.

Source: Archaeological Park of Pompeii [February 24, 2021]

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