Project 3: Insula IX, 5 at Pompeii as a context of decorative systems

Pelias, king of Iolcos, stops on the steps of a temple as he recognises young Jason by his missing sandal.
Pelias, king of Iolcos, stops on the steps of a temple as he recognises young Jason by his missing sandal.public domain, source


WP 3 provides further contextual development of the approaches taken in WP 1. It does not attempt to trace the development of decorative principles in their totality, but seeks to develop an understanding of the interplay between different forms of decor that can be found within a single insula at Pompeii. Insula IX, 5, which was chosen as case study for this analysis, consists of several smaller houses that employ very different forms of decor. 

As such, this block is ideally suited for a diachronic analysis of forms of decoration. It contains the Casa di Achille (IX 5,1-3), Casa IX 5,6.17, the Casa dei Pigmei (IX 5,9), Casa IX 5,11.13, the Casa di Giasone (IX 5,18), Casa IX 5,14-16 (also known as the lupanar) and a bakery (IX 5,4).

The starting point for this work package is a systematic collation of all information regarding the precise location of all preserved, as well as now lost, wall paintings and frescoes. These are to be placed in relation to all other decorative elements that can be reconstructed for this insula. This documentation of all relevant data is to be collated in a catalogue of room data sheets and mapped by means of ground plans. In as far as possible, the project will draw on the new plans that are currently being created as part of the Grande Progetto Pompei.

In terms of analysis of its decor, parts of Insula IX, 5 have repeatedly been the focus of attention, as they include some highly unusual or striking decor elements. These include depictions of pygmies or detailed depictions of sexual acts (in the lupanar). The Casa di Giasone in particular has been discussed with a view to the interaction of different images in the past. To date, however, there has been no systematic analysis of all forms of decor. The work package will orient itself along the lines of investigation relating to architectural structuring of rooms and their accessibility on the one hand, and the distribution of decorative elements on the other, as formulated above. As such it will discuss in what forms aesthetically differentiated and simultaneously complex narrative spaces are created by means of intermedia references and assess how these forms of aesthetic and semantic reception of decor were experienced through motion within the space. In a final stage, this sequencing of the experience of decor is to be resolved for entire house units and ultimately, at least on a comparative level, the insula as a whole.