Chapter VIII - House of the Tragic poet

Chapter 7 Contents Chapter 9

Plate 38 - Commentary

Discovered at the close of the year 1824.

Of all the habitations of private individuals yet discovered at Pompeii, the house, to which the name of the Tragic Poet has been given, has excited the most lively interest in the public mind ; and this, not so much from its magnitude, which would scarcely place it among the homes of the richer citizens, but on account of the paintings and mosaic with which it was decorated.

A reference to the plan, plate XXXV, will explain the distribution of the apartments and their dimensions. If the two rooms, situated on each side of the vestibule or entrance, were shops, the doors connecting them with the same vestibule, contrary to the general custom, would seem to indicate that the proprietor was concerned in some sort of trade. This species of chamber was called apotheca by the Greeks, and taberna by the Romans ; but, if the wide openings toward the street be not certain indications of a shop, it does not seem impossible that the rooms might have been occupied by the servants of the family.

On the pier left of the door was written in red characters


This inscription, unfortunately, gives no information with regard to the proprietor of the house. The three following are scratched with a nail on the outer wall ; and the first, which is reversed in the original, seems to offer a puzzle to the passenger :

The following letters are on the pier at the angle of a house forming, with this of the poet, the entrance of the vicus of the fullonicae.

A learned Neapolitan has translated the Etruscan part of this inscription. He says it signifies, «You shall hear a poem of Numerius». To one unskilled in the language, it appears to be the name of an owner of the house, and might be M. P. Cepius. The doors turned upon pivots in two umbilici of bronze fixed into a marble threshold, the outer part of which rose about an inch above the rest. This, with two door-posts of wood, also fixed in holes in the marble, served to maintain the door in its position when shut.

On entering, the first object is a black dog spotted with white, represented on the pavement in mosaic, collared and chained, and in the attitude of barking. The collar is of red leather. Below the animal is inscribed, in very legible characters, CAVE CANEM, a sentence, probably, not uncommonly placed at the entrance of Roman houses, as we learn from a passage of Petronius Arbiter : «Canis ingens catena vinctus, non longe ab ostiarii cella in pariete erat pictus, superque quadrata littera scriptum CAVE, CAVE CANEM».

Below the inscription may be observed a hole in the pavement for the reception of the rain water which might chance to enter from without, much in the same manner as we find a similar orifice under the doors and windows in modern Italy, where it is thought easier to lead the water out again into the street than to prevent it from entering at all.

The dog seems to have been placed as a sort of guardian of the porta antica, or front door.

The passage entry, or vestibule, is about six feet wide, and nearly thirty in length ; and a curtain, or door, may have been placed at the entry of the atrium. Statues could not have existed in this vestibule, as they are said by Saint Augustine, De Civ. Dei (IV, 8), to have done in Roman houses. He says that three gods guarded the doors : «Forculum foribus, Cardeam cardini, Limentinum limini». These protectors of doors, hinges, and thresholds might have been painted on the wall ; but, as yet, no traces of them have been observed in the habitations of Pompeii.

The atrium is about twenty-eight feet in length by twenty, with its impluvium near the centre, under which was a cistern whence the water might be drawn through a fluted hollow cylinder of marble.

The floor is prettily paved with white tesserae, spotted, at intervals, with black ; and, round the impluvium, is a well-executed interlaced pattern, also in black.

The following inscription on a slab of marble is said to have been found in this atrium on the 5th of March, in the year 1825. There seems to have been nothing to afford room for a conjecture as to how it came there. It might, perhaps, have been thrown into an excavation which the ancients themselves seem to have made in this spot, or have fallen from an upper wall.

sic pro minist. MINIT. AVGVST
D.V.V. A. S. P.P.

Perhaps, as the inscription does not seem to allude clearly to the owner of the house, its chief merit may consist in having been engraved in the first year after the birth of our Saviour, about 753 years after the building of Rome, when Caius Julius Coesar and Lucius Aemilius Paullus were consuls.

On the left, on quitting the vestibule, yet remain the legs and part of the body of a beautiful Venus painted in tempra, or distemper, upon the wall. The colouring is quite that of Titian, and the attitude not unlike that of the Venus dei Medici. One hand is held up over the head, and supports a light, undulating blue drapery. On the ground is a dove and the myrtle branch, the emblems of the goddess. More of this exquisite painting might, possibly, have been preserved by greater tare in excavating, though the plaster, in many parts, adhered but slightly to the wall.

Still proceeding to the left, the first small chamber is painted of a yellow colour with black pilasters ; and, from this, a narrow stair-case ascended to the upper story of the house.

That an upper floor was usual at Pompeii may be proved by the frequent staircases, and the remains of the painted walls of the upper rooms, above the holes for placing the beams over the lower apartments ; while the slight construction of these walls renders very improbable the existence of any still superior chambers, though Juvenal remarks, Sat. III., that the houses very commonly fell with a tremendous crash. During the excavation, the fragments of the mosaic pavement of the upper floor, with a head of Bacchus, were discovered in this house ; and, what is curious, considering the evident indications of a previous examination of the place, probably not long after the fatal eruption, several articles of value were found, which appeared to have fallen from above.

This circumstance gave rise to the idea that the house must have belonged to a jeweller, or rich goldsmith, and nothing yet observed tends materially to invalidate the opinion ; for, except the mosaic, there is nothing peculiarly devoted either to poetry or tragedy in the mansion. All the other houses of Pompeii were decorated with paintings of mythological or heroic subjects, because, in fact, the poets and painters seldom sung or painted any other.

The position of the house must have been easily ascertained by the survivors after the catastrophe, from its proximity to the thermae, the arches of which, as well as the dome of the piscina, resisted the weight of the volcanic matter ; and the riches of the proprietor were naturaily the incentives to the research which followed, and of which the vestiges were so apparent.

The unfortunate proprietors were, probably, among the victims of the eruption, for skulls, or the fragments of them, were found on the spot ; and a variety of trinkets were considered as the indications of the toilet, or dressing-box, of the lady of the house.

Among these were remarked two necklaces of gold ; a twisted gold cord ; four bracelets, one weighing seven ounces, and formed into serpents ; a child's necklace ; two small bracelets ; four earrings, and an engraved stone mounted in a large ring. Two coins, also of gold, were found.

Forty-two silver coins, a bracciere for fire, and a variety of utensils of bronze and earthenware, formed part of the riches of this house, after the ancient excavators had already searched the place.

In one of the adjoining houses of refreshment, the skeleton of an unhappy proprietor was also discovered. He had, in vain, sought shelter under a staircase of stone, where he was probably suffocated. His treasure was found near, and consisted of rings of gold, with earrings of the same metal, together with about 140 coins of brass and silver.

It has usually been agreed, that, in Roman houses, the lower or ground floor was appropriated to the master of the house, and to the more magnificent apartments, while the upper was occupied by the servants. In a Greek house, as we learn from the celebrated oration of Lysias, they were changeable ; and, possibly, they were so in the habitations of Pompeii, which are, with difficulty, reducible exactly to the rules given by Vitruvius for the houses of either people.

Euphiletes, the client of Lysias the celebrated orator, had a house consisting of two floors ; the lower usually occupied by the males of the family, and the upper serving as a gynecaeum, or apartment for the women and children. On some occasion, for the convenience of nursing, the uses of the apartments were changed ; and Sostratus, a friend of Euphiletes, is mentioned particularly as having gone up stairs even to supper, the nurse and child being always below. The wife slept, at night, with the husband above. One night, the nurse, having concealed in a lower room the lover of the wife, pinched the child till its cries were heard by the parents. Euphiletes, surprised at the inhumanity of his wife, who at first seemed unwilling to attend to the child, ordered her to get up and go to its assistance ; but, observing that, as she went out, she cautiously turned the key and locked him into his room, and having, on former occasions, heard the street-door open while she was absent, he suspected there might be some mystery in the business, though he had been always told that the noise was occasioned by his wife going to a neighbour's for a light, as the lamp below had gone out, and the child wanted help. Having found means to open his door, Euphiletes went out, unperceived, in search of Sostratus, his friend, leaving the street-door ajar, that he might re-enter at pleasure to detect the culprits, who were, accordingly, surprised by the breaking open of their chamber.

This description of facts seems such as might have taken place in a house like this at Pompeii ; and, from the absence of all privacy during the day, it seems scarcely credible that the apartment of the females could have been on the ground floor in the house of the Tragic Poet, or, perhaps, any other in the city. When the porta antica, or great door, was opened, every one from the street could see nearly all that passed, except in the triclinium of Leda, which was, in its turn, completely exposed from the other street on opening the porta postica ; so that the females of the family could have had no retreat except, like Penelope, they inhabited the upper rooms of the house.

It is very probable that the custom of closing the doors was also at least as unfrequent in ancient as in modern Italy. The houses, however, were so contrived, that the sun could generally shine through the compluvium into the atrium, or cavaedium, an advantage not possessed by the houses of the present day, where the court is usually darkened and rendered damp by the height of the surrounding buildings. This species of construction must have rendered the houses of the ancients more habitable during the winter whenever the sun was visible ; but, notwithstanding all that may be said or imagined of the mildness of the climate, the want of fire and of chimneys must have reduced the ancient, as it does the modern inhabitants of Italy, to enduring, under additional clothing, that state of discomfort and cold damp which is always produced whenever the sky is overcast, between the months of October and April.

The climate of Pompeii is, however, particularly genial during the winter ; and, if the sun be visible, the situation is such as to mitigate the severity of the season, while the heat of summer is agreeably tempered by the sea-breeze, which is almost periodical.

Plate 36 - Commentary

From the angle of the atrium, near that sort of cubiculum or chamber which contains the staircase, nearly the whole of the house is visible, and that spot has accordingly been chosen for the view given in plate XXXVI.

The impluvium, with its border of mosaic, is seen in the foreground. On the right side is the entrance into a small cubiculum. On the right of that door is the invaluable picture of Achilles restoring Briseis to the heralds, who were to reconduct her to her father.

This is, perhaps, the most beautiful specimen of ancient painting which has been preserved to our times ; and it has been the means of awakening the attention of artists and of the public to the hitherto depreciated merit of the masters of antiquity. - Vide plate XXXIX. The size of this painting is four feet wide by four feet two inches high.

The scene seems to take place in the tent of Achilles, who sits in the centre. Patroclus, with his back toward the spectator, and with a skin of deeper red, leads in, from the right, the lovely Briseis arrayed in a long and floating veil of apple-green. Her face is beautiful ; and, not to dwell on the archness of her eye, it is evident that the voluptuous pouting of her ruby lip was imagined by the painter as one of her most bewitching attributes. Achilles presents the fair one to the heralds on the left ; and his attitude, his manly beauty, and the magnificent expression of his countenance are inimitable.

The tent seems to be divided by a drapery about breast-high, and of a sort of dark bluish-green, like the tent itself. Behind this stand several warriors, the golden shield of one of whom, whether intentionally or not on the part of the painter, forms a species of glory round the head of the principal hero.

It is, probably, the copy of one of the most celebrated pictures of antiquity.

When first discovered, the colours were fresh, and the flesh, particularly, had the transparency of Titian. It suffered much and unavoidably during the excavation, and something from the means taken to preserve it, when a committee of persons qualified to judge had decided that the wall on which it was painted was not in a state to admit of its removal with safety. At length, after an exposure of more than two years, it was thought better to attempt to transport it to the Studii at Naples, than to suffer it entirely to disappear from the wall. It was, accordingly, removed, with success, in the summer of the year 1826, and it is hoped that some remains of it may exist for posterity.

The painter has chosen the moment when the heralds, Talthybius and Eurybates, are put in possession of Briseis, to escort her to the tent of Agamemnon, as described in the first book of the Iliad, and thus translated by Pope :

Patroclus now the unwilling beauty brought.
She in soft sorrows and in pensive thought
Pass'd silent as the heralds held her hand,
And oft look'd back, slow moving o'er the strand.

The head of Achilles is so full of fire and animation that an attempt has been made to introduce a fac-simile of it in plate XL. Though a fac-simile, as far as being traced with transparent paper from the original can render it so, it gives but a very imperfect idea of the divinity which seems to animate the hero of the painting.

On the left of the door of the cubiculum is another picture, but, unhappily, so much defaced that even the subject, at first, seemed doubtful ; but the picture of Briseis quickly suggested the restoration of Chryseis to her father, also described in the first book of the Iliad in these lines :

Meanwhile Atrides launch'd with numerous oars
A well-rigg'd ship for Chrysa's sacred shores
High on the deck was fair Chryseis placed,
And sage Ulysses with the conduct graced :
Safe in her sides the hecatomb they stow'd,
Then swiftly sailing cut the liquid road.

What remains of it may be observed in plate XXXVII, on the right, where, under a blue sky, is seen a female in long robes, whose hands are kissed by children, while an elderly person looks on from the right, and, on the left, under a red portal, an armed man, with helmet and plume, is seen behind the principal figure. The chief personage seems to be stepping on board a galley, and, without doubt, the picture represented Chryseis returning to her own country from the Grecian camp, while Ulysses and the heralds are assisting at the embarkation ; though some have supposed it to have represented Andromache, with her infant son, going into slavery after the destruction of Troy. The decay of the painting renders abortive any speculation on the subject of the execution, or even of the conception of the picture.

To the left of this picture is the ala, a species of recess, possibly once furnished with seats ; but of which, either here, or in any other house, no vestige upon the colouring of the wall bas been observed, though furniture could scarcely have been placed against a wall without leaving some trace on the painting.

To the left of this is the faux, or passage to the inner court, scarcely more than three feet in width, and always so near and so visible from the tablinum, that nothing could pass without being seen by the family.

We next observe the tablinum itself, so called from being closed with planks or shutters, and, beyond it, the inner court, with its Doric columns, between which is seen a wall painted as a blue sky ; while, below it, the tops of trees are visible over the parapet, representing alto gether a scene in the country or a pseudo-garden.

In the aedicula, on the left, was probably placed the statue of a Faun or a Bacchus, which was found near the spot, carrying fruits and flowers. Between the columns ran some species of balustrade, as the holes for fixing it inform us, rendering the area, or hypaethrum, a sort of sanctuary, probably planted with choice flowers.

To assist in forming an idea of the pleasing effect produced by the houses of Pompeii, plate XXXVII has been introduced. It is traced upon the view n° 36, which was executed mechanically, and, therefore, cannot fail in correctness. The roof only has been added, and that of the most simple kind, formed by a rectangular intersection of beams. The ornements are those which remain on the spot, or are taken from others in similar situations. The introduction of draperies, furniture, and the doors or shutters, called volubiles, might have rendered the drawing more picturesque ; but even curtains have been very sparingly adopted, in order to exclude as much as possible the introduction of imaginary ornament. It may not be amiss to add, when every thing is disputed, that the iron rods, on which curtains, or draperies, were suspended from column to column, have lately, in the year 1828, been discovered perfect in a new excavation at Herculaneum.

The atrium hoasted other pictures, of which only fragments exist ; but one, nearly perfect, on the right of the entrance, remains to be described. Vide plate XLI. Some have supposed that this represented the return of Helen to Menelaus, and have amused themselves by discovering, in the countenances, expressions excited by that event. Some have considered this painting as representing the moment when Thetis complains to Jupiter of the injustice done to Achilles ; and this seems the most rational idea, and one with which her countenance, and every other circumstance correspond : but others, again, have imagined that they discovered in the picture the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, and perceived, in the expression of the Nereid, the reluctance with which she is reported to have consented to a mortal alliance.

The heads and the drapery are fine, but the picture, altogether, is far inferior in beauty to that of Achilles. Fate had fixed that the son of Thetis should excel his father, in consequence of which the nymph was no longer sought in marriage by the Gods, and was compelled to marry Peleus, as the first of mortals. The ring on her finger is remarkable, because rings were invented from a circumstance connected with Thetis. The tradition relates that Jupiter, wishing to release Prometheus, who was bound to a rock for a certain number of years, was prevented by his oath. Prometheus, however, having shown how the difficulty with regard to the son of Thetis might be overcome, by her marriage with a mortal, had merited restoration to divine favour. This could only be done consistently with the oath, by making a ring in which was set a piece of the rock of Caucasus, always to be worn by Prometheus, who thus remained, in a manner, perpetually chained to the rock.

Opposite to the painting of Achilles is a sea-piece, which, though now almost unintelligible, might, at first, be recognised as the flight of Daedalus, or rather the fall of Icarus.

A winged sea-god, on a dolphin, seems to be assisting, with his trident, the unfortunate adventurer ; and the execution of the piece, though less laboured than some of the other paintings, possesses a breadth which, probably, rendered it a beautiful picture when the colours were fresh and brilliant. An idea of it is given in the base of the Frontispiece.

A small chamber, also on the left of the atrium, is remarkable on account of its singular frieze, upon which, on a white ground, is represented in colours the combat of the Greeks and Amazons. The figures are sketched with an incomparable freedom of hand, which gives them every appearance of originality ; though the subject was so often repeated by the ancients, that, without enumerating the paintings on vases, and the frequent recurrence of the Amazons at Rome, the author has observed the same scene represented, without much deviation, on various marbles both in Greece and Ionia. The frieze of the Athenian Temple of Minerva Nike is well known in England ; that of Diana Leucophryne, at Magnesia on the Maeander,consisted of the same personages : the internal frieze of the Temple of Apollo at Bassae was, in part, composed of them ; and a large fragment near Amyclae proves that they constituted one of the principal ornaments of a temple in that neighbourhood.

The heroines of Pompeii differ, however, from those hitherto observed in Greece ; being mounted in chariots, and armed with bows, as well as with their peculiar baffle-axes and shields. They are clothed in draperies of blue, green, and purple, and are represented in strong, or perhaps rather extravagant action ; often pursuing the Greeks, but sometimes falling beneath their blows, while the victory seems, as yet, doubtful. In the frieze of the frontispiece of this work many of these figures are seen, which may suffice for a general idea of the combat. An Amazon, whose horse is falling, and who, though wounded herself, yet retains her seat, is a masterpiece of attitude, however negligently the picture may be touched.

In the same chamber is a picture, generally supposed to have been obscene ; but it is either so much effaced, or was so carelessly executed, that it may, possibly, have been intended to represent a person supporting a dead or fainting female. It is singular that, in many cases, though a picture be not i11 preserved, and may be seen from the most convenient distance, a style of painting has been adopted, which, though calculated to decorate the wall, is by no means intelligible on a nearer approach.

In a chamber, near the entrance of the chalcidicum, by the statue of Eumachia, is a picture in which, from a certain distance, a town, a tent, and something like a marriage ceremony, might be perceived ; but which vanished into an assemblage of apparently unmeaning blots, so as to entirely elude the skill of an artist who was endeavouring to copy it at the distance of three or four feet.

Another picture of the same kind is, or was, visible in the chamber, of the Perseus and Andromeda. An entire farmyard, with animals, a fountain, and a beggar, seemed to invite the antiquary to a doser inspection, which only produced confusion and disappointment, and proved that the picture could not be copied except by a painter possessing the skill and touch of the original artist. It is probable that those who were in the habit of painting these unreal pictures had the art of producing them with great ease and expedition ; and that they served to fill a compartment where greater detail was judged unnecessary (1).

In the chamber of the Amazons is also a painting of Europa and the Bull.

These cubiculi are all about twelve feet in height, and have been covered with six small beams, on which were suspended the floors of the upper chambers. The doors appear, generally, to have had two valves, as may be seen by the sockets in the thresholds for two umbilici on which they turned, and two holes, in the centre, for bolts.

From the atrium a narrow corridor, or faux, communicated with the peristyle, or inner court, between which and the atrium was also situated the chamber called the tablinum, which should occupy, according to Vitruvius, two-thirds of the width of the atrium. In this the wall on the left presents a variety of singular and fanciful architectural ornaments, such as pillars with human heads for capitals, sustaining capricious entablatures, not destitute of picturesque effect, an idea of which may be formed by observing the frontispiece.

On the right is a large picture, generally little esteemed, by connoisseurs, for its execution, but producing a good whole, and represented in plate XLIV of this work. It is more particularly described in the account of the engravings. The wall is adorned, also, with a variety of other ornaments, some of which have been adopted in the frontispiece. Swans, goats, lions, and singularly capricious architecture and variety of colour constitute here, as throughout Pompeii, the fanciful and lively decorations. The opposite wall is differently, yet not less fantastically covered with still more imaginary, but not inelegant, porticos and erections. A door, entering into a cubiculum, in which, among other objects, we find a cock painted with the caduceus of Mercury, supplies the place of a picture. This tablinum might be imagined a dark chamber, and that it received only a reflected light from the atrium and peristyle ; and, in the restoration, its proper effect has not, perhaps, been given ; but Vitruvius explains the circumstance, clearly showing that the tablinum was to be higher than the atrium, in order that the light might enter through the windows above.

The inner peristyle, enclosing a sort of court, probably planted with flowers, and sometimes called a viridarium, consists of Doric columns, standing upon a sort of podium, painted, like the lower part of the pillars, red. The capitals have a fanciful moulding in the echinus, also coloured with the saine. In the garden a tortoise had been kept, and the shell of the animal was found on the spot.

At the same time several frogs were discovered in terra cotta, evidently hollowed so as to serve for spouts to the roof of the portico. The opposite wall was painted with trees and sky. The tablinum had evidently been closed on this side with doors or shutters, which were of the kind called volubiles, or with many folds, as they are now frequently made in England, but, on the side next the atrium, if other means of shutting up the apartment existed, than the use of a curtain, the shutters could only have been supported by wood-work attached to the wall, as the threshold retains no sign of the hinges or fastenings.

On the left of the peristyle are two cubiculi, one of which has been called the library, from a circular painting with books and the implements for writing, and of which more will be said at the close of this work. The other contains the picture of Ariadne, given in plate XLIII. On the same side is also a postern, or back entrance to the house, from a vicus, or alley, into which the windows of the cubiculi opened.

Near the column, at the angle on the right, is a cylinder of lead, into which, it appears, the min from the roofs was conducted.

Against the wall stood a little shrine, in or near which was found a small statue, which was thought to represent either a young Bacchus, or a faun. On the right of the faux, at the entrance, were a kitchen and the latrina, which usually are near together. The remainder of that side was occupied by the Chamber of Leda.

The apartment which has acquired the name of the Chamber of Leda, from a painting on one of its walls, is the largest, which can be called a room, in the house of the Tragic Poet, being little short of twenty feet square, and of considerable height. It has been painted in the most glaring shades of red and yellow, and, in the centre of each compartment, there has been a picture of considerable merit.

One, almost defaced, contains a beautiful Cupid, most gracefully leaning on the knees of Venus, to whom Adonis seems to be ad-dressing himself.

Another exhibits Ariadne sleeping on the margin of the sea, with that sort of glory encircling her head which can scarcely be intended to represent a blue hat in many of the paintings at Pompeii. The faithless Theseus, under the guidance of Minerva, who is visible in the clouds, is, in the mean time, embarking, attended by his companions. Loth these paintings are much defaced, so that it is difficult to judge of their execution, but the composition of this last has not much merit.

The picture of Leda, plate XLVIII, presenting her infant progeny to Tyndareus, is one of the most beautiful productions of ancient art, and is not only estimable for the elegance of its design and composition, but, as far as can be judged, it excels the generality of other specimens in chastity and harmony of colour. It has not made the impression which its merit ought to have produced on the minds of those who are oflicially interested in the discoveries at Pompeii, but, on the expression of that opinion on the subject, it was pleasing to learn that Thorwaldsen had regarded this picture with that admiration which grace and nature must ever inspire in a real artist.

Mythologists have attributed to this princess not only her daughters Timandra, Clytaemnestra, and Philonoe, by her husband Tyndareus, King of Lacedaemon, but Castor, Pollux, and Helen, the offspring of Jupiter, produced from two eggs, one of the Dioscuri and the wife of Menelaus having been born in the same shell.

This story has been differently related, and Helen has, by some, been supposed to be the child of Jupiter and Nemesis confided to the care of Leda ; but the Greek word for an egg, and that for an upper apartment, are so similar, that the circumstance seems to require little further explanation. M. Selvaggi observes that the Scholiast on Tzetzes says that Jupiter caused Nemesis to lay three eggs, which, being placed in a larnax in the care of Leda, produced Castor, Pollux, and Helen. The children, in allusion to the fable, are here represented in their nest, which the mother holds gracefully in one hand, while she caresses them with the other.

A curious change often takes place in the colours of these pictures, after they have been some time exposed to the air.

M. Zahn, an artist of merit, who copied this painting of Leda only a few days after its discovery, states that the drapery of that princess was green lined with blue, and that the robe of Tyndareus was black lined with green. Behind Leda was an attendant in a green garment ; the habit of the person with the bow was yellow, and that of the last figure on the right hand green. It is difficult to reconcile this account with its appearance about a month afterwards, when the robe of Leda was red, and that of Tyndareus purple, and both have remained so from that period to the present hour.

The landscape is much faded in the back ground. The red usually changes to black, and the wall, with the picture of Leda, had, in the course of a year's exposure, assumed a darker hue in consequence.

The wall itself is given in plate XLVII, and, if possible, as much of its gaudy and glaring colouring will be preserved as will suffice to afford a just idea of the decorations of the apartment. The taste may seem extravagant in a small drawing, but is less so when seen on a larger scale.

The openings represented in the wall, through which the transparent atmosphere and capricious architectural decorations are discovered, have a pleasing and striking effect. In these we are presented with the roof, or ceiling, and the opening of the impluvium ; and, in the original, they are of a size sufficient to leave no doubt as to the appearance from the atrium of this important feature, which was decorated, like the eaves of external roofs, with its ornemental antefixes.

The lower part of the wall was decorated with garlands, sea-horses, and other ornaments, on black panels. The floor of the room is mosaic.

This chamber of Leda is prettily paved in mosaic, and is nineteen feet long by eighteen feet six inches wide. In its present state it is sufficiently lofty, and there can be little doubt that it had, like the other tablinum, a row of small windows which admitted light above the roof of the peristyle.

It is impossible to conclude the account of the house of the Tragic Poet without speaking of the beautiful mosaic picture, plate XLV, on the floor of the tablinum.

It is the best and largest mosaic, deserving the name of a picture, which has yet been discovered, and represents, on a black ground, an Ionic colonnade decorated with shields, festoons, and fillets, in front of which an elderly person seated seems to superintend the distribution of masks and dresses to the performers of the theatre. Two youths, on the left, seem already provided with a scanty savage dress of goat-skips ; a person, near the centre, plays the double flute, while his habit is adjusted by an attendant behind ; and another is pulling over the head of a comedian a sort of shirt adapted to his character. It is said that many of the Neapolitan academicians believed that the story of Apollo and Marsyas was represented in this mosaic, and that the vanquished musician is suspended by the feet to the pillars. If that be the opinion of a numerous and respectable society, it is right to mention it, though it does not seem warranted by the picture. This mosaic is defective at the angle on the right, but is, nevertheless, invaluable.

It has, probably, contributed not a little in giving to the house the name it bears, and, when it is taken in connexion with the other pictures of the poet reading, and the heroic and tragic subjects which are found in all parts of the habitation, few will, perhaps, be disposed to cavil at so classical a supposition. Plate XXV (?), in the copy of the great work on Herculaneum by Piroli, represents the rehearsal of a play in a manner not very different from this mosaic ; and, in another painting, the pedagogue is seen whipping one of his scholars in a school with a similar portico, and, like it, adorned with garlands.

Plate 42

Plate 46

Plate 49

Bonucci, who had every opportunity of obtaining information, gives a long list of objects found in the house of the poet. Some of them are too interesting to be omitted.

Of gold, were found two necklaces and two bracelets, formed of two lines of semiglobes, which have since been imitated by the goldsmiths and jewellers of Naples.

Two armlets, formed like serpents, in many convolutions, and a smaller one for a child.

Four ear-rings, each of two pearls, hanging as if from a balance.

A ring of onyx with the head of a youth.

Two coins, one of Nero and one of Titus. These objects seemed to have fallen from the dressing-case of a female who lived in the upper story. They were not more than five feet below the soil.

Thirty-nine silver coins, both consular and imperial ; a mass of brass coins ; twenty-seven coins separate ; saucepans and kitchen utensils of all sorts ; a vase for oil ; a bucket ; a lamp for two lights, with the head and feet of a bull which hung from the ceiling of a chamber ; a little tripod ; a candelabrum ; screws belonging to the furniture.

Of iron, four hatchets ; a hammer ; a tripod ; a broken key ; two hooks ; two heels for boots, with holes for the nails ; locks, latches, and hinges.

Of glass, four decanters and three globular bottles. Of terra cotta, fifty-six lamps and many other articles ; among them a cup, with fine enamel or varnish. Six plates are said to have been found in another place, with fine blue varnish.

A head of Hermes of giallo antico ; a quantity of corn ; many ropes carbonized ; a piece of soap, and three weights of lead. In a house not far distant were found, in the month of November, 1826, vases with olives still swimming in oil. They retained their colour, and the oil burnt well. Also a vase of caviare, or the eggs of tunny fish. Ashes had fallen into air, and formed a sort of crust, which had preserved the contents.

Vignette 18 - Commentary

(1)  This art of representing the effect of a picture upon a wall, instead of imitating nature itself, is applied, with considerable success, in the decoration of certain modern Italian habitations. The author has seen in the Palazzo Sannizzi, at Rieti, a room of magnificent dimensions, on entering which a visiter imagines himself in an apartment hung with green damask, and decorated with a profusion of splendid pictures. There are Madonnas and Holy Familles, landscapes, animals, and battle-pieces, which recal, at the moment, the names and works of the most distinguished artists. A further examination, on a nearer approach, shows that no one of the objects has any decided form or outline, or intelligible sign. Not only does the whole collection consist in the representation of pictures, but their seemingly gold frames are merely wooden mouldings roughly painted with ochre, most scantily touched, here and there, in the prominent parts, with gilding to represent the effect of catching lights. Behind each sham picture was nothing but the white wall, and the apparently rich silk hangings consist in a few narrow stripes of the stuff between the frames - yet the whole has a good effect.