Project 2: Imagery and ornaments on small finds from the Insula di Menandro (I, 10) at Pompeii

Ancient roman mirror with a figurative emblem, silver, 1st c.CE. From-the treasure of the House-of Menander in Pompeii, Italy, Source: Jebulon.
Ancient roman mirror with a figurative emblem, silver, 1st c.CE. From-the treasure of the House-of Menander in Pompeii, Italypublic domain, source


WP 2 investigates an aspect that was excluded from WP 1: the analysis of small finds in view of their decorative potential. It seeks to identify the extent to which the atmosphere of the houses in the Insula di Menandro was additionally charged in aesthetic and semantic terms by mobile small finds.

Not only is the insula very well preserved, it has also been extensively published recently. This includes its architectures, painted decoration and small finds (Allison 2006). Insula 10 of Regio I includes house I 10,1, the Casa del Menandro (I 10,4), Units I 10,5 and I 10,6, the Casa del Fabbro (I 10,7), House I 10,8, the Casa degli Amanti (I 10,10-11), Unit I 10,12 and house I 10,18. Despite the excellent state of publication, the small finds in the stores at Naples will have to be re-evaluated as part of this work package, as the frequently very small figures and brief description only provide general impressions of the material. To date, such small finds were studied – if they were analysed in contextual terms at all – only with a view to conclusions regarding room function. This work package, however, will view them as carriers of decor, of images and ornaments, and treat them accordingly.

There has been no overall study of the decorative spectrum, in aesthetic as well as semantic terms, of these finds. In total, Allison’s publication includes 2000 individual finds. These include decorated, as well as undecorated, ceramics, glass, a richly illustrated and ornamented silver treasure, coins, a small number of statues and statuettes as well as other objects or bronze fittings of objects including in one instance a sun dial. These are objects that would have been staged and included in everyday life in very different ways. While the work package initially aims to analyse the imagery employed on these objects, it will also assess the ambiental contextualisation of these small finds.

In this, it will study how these elements of decor related to the rooms in which they were found. Clearly, find contexts do not necessarily correspond directly to original contexts of use, and mobile objects cannot be assumed to have possessed a direct (i.e. intentionally created) aesthetic or content reference to specific rooms. Nonetheless, mobile objects are carriers of decor (images and ornaments) and therefore must have contributed to the general atmosphere of houses. Within this wider framework, the work package is to address the following questions:

- Which objects are decorated with ornaments or images and which remain without decoration, i.e. are    reduced to their formal ‘design’? How can we define the relation between image and ornament on the one hand, between design and ornament on the other?

  • Do stereotypical relations exist between decor elements and categories of objects?
  • What thematic spectra are accessed by the small finds from the Insula di Menandro?
  • Is it possible to assess how larger objects (e.g. furniture, oscilla) affected the mood or atmosphere of a room?
  • What actions or processes involved the use of image or ornament carrying objects, and how are these relevant for a spatial contextualisation of finds?
  • In as far as reliable associations of individual small finds with specific rooms are possible, can concentrations of specific themes be identified in certain rooms?
  • How is the decorative range of individual rooms, as defined by fixed contextual decorative elements (frescoes, floor surfaces, ceilings) extended, supplemented or intensified by mobile small finds? How are the visual impressions of rooms affected by objects (especially larger statuary or objects)?