Decorative Principles in late Republican and early Imperial Italy (DECOR)

Fresco in the Domus Aurea in Rome
Fresco in the Domus Aurea in Romepuplic domain, source

This project will provide a comprehensive analysis of the decorative principles employed between the late Republic and the end of the early Imperial period, i.e. the 2nd century BC and the end of the 1st century AD. It will be the first research programme to move away from analyses of single decorative elements in isolation and to focus on their correlation and interaction.

Five projects in variying spatial contexts

This comprehensive approach will be adopted for varying spatial contexts:

  • houses (projects 1-3)
  • sanctuaries (project 4)
  • main streets (project 5)
  1. Houses (subprojects 1 - 3)

resco in the Domus Aurea in Rome
Decorative principles in Roman houses
To subproject 1
Ancient roman mirror with a figurative emblem, silver, 1st c.CE. From-the treasure of the House-of Menander in Pompeii, Italy
Imagery and ornaments on small finds from the Insula di Menandro (I, 10) at PompeiiTo subproject 2
Pelias, king of Iolcos, stops on the steps of a temple as he recognises young Jason by his missing sandal
Insula IX, 5 at Pompeii as a context of decorative systemsTo subproject 3
  1. Sanctuaries (subproject 4)

Temple of Isis in Pompeii
Decorative Principles of Roman Temples in Italy
To subproject 4
  1. Main streets (subproject 5)

Via dell’Abbondanza in Pompeii
Street Design and Decoration in Roman ItalyTo subproject 5

These variying spatial contexts are enabling analyses of the changes decorative principles underwent according to spatial and functional contexts.

Questions to discuss

Within this framework, the project will address four core research questions:

  1. How can the interplay of different decorative elements be analysed for architecturally closed and open urban spaces? A key question here is how forms of decor interact on a formal level, as well as in terms of content and meaning, in order to create specific atmospheres.
  2. What methods allow a scientific assessment of the interplay between decor and the use of space?
  3. Is there a social significance to decorative principles? Do specific social groups or specific spatial contexts favour or exclusively employ specific forms of decor?
  4. How can decorative ensembles be identified as artistic expressions typical for certain periods? This approach will enable analyses of forms of decor and their dependencies on respective functional contexts in spatial, chronological and social terms.

The project is a pilot project for advancing new methods in substantial analyses of decorated spaces. At the same time, it provides a fundamental advancement of our understanding of the visual culture from the late Republic to the early Roman Empire.

Principle Investigator

Prof. Dr. Annette Haug

Funded by

The research project  "Decorative Principles in late Republican and early Imperial Italy" (DECOR) has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 681269).