The 19th century
We hear about Ostian paintings for the first time in the 19th century. Until 1870 Ostia was property of the Vatican, and excavations were carried out under the supervision of the Vatican. Many finds were taken to the Vatican Museums, including seven paintings from the Porta Laurentina necropolis, from three tombs excavated by C.L. Visconti in 1865 (Paschetto 1912, 463 ff., 555). They are:
- Meal in honour of the dead (Marucchi 1922, nr. 969; Museo Lateranense; perhaps from tomb 31).
- Mercurius (Museo Lateranense; perhaps from tomb 31).
- The ship Isis Giminiana (Marucchi 1922, nr. 969; Sala delle Nozze Aldobrandine; perhaps from tomb 31).
- Orpheus and Eurydice in the underworld (Helbig 1963, nr. 1156; Marucchi 1922, nr. 954; Vaglieri 1914, p. 117; Museo Lateranense; from tomb 33).
- Scene from a tragedy (Helbig 1963, nr. 1155; Vaglieri 1914, 117; Marucchi 1922, nr. 956; Museo Lateranense; from the Tomb of the Caecilii, which is perhaps tomb 34).
- The Rape of Proserpina (Helbig 1963, nr. 1155; Vaglieri 1914, 117; Marucchi 1922, nr. 952; Museo Lateranense; from the Tomb of the Caecilii, which is perhaps tomb 34).
- Fruit and a bird (Helbig 1963, nr. 1155; Vaglieri 1914, 117; Museo Lateranense; from the Tomb of the Caecilii, which is perhaps tomb 34).
In an unidentified building ("ben ornata casa"), not far from the necropolis, two fragments were found by C.L. Visconti in 1868 (Paschetto 1912, 559; Helbig 1963, nr. 467; Stern 1974, 1975, 1981). These too were taken to the Vatican (Sala delle Nozze Aldobrandine). They are:
- The months August (feast of Diana) and September (Vendemia).
- The months March (Navigium Isidis) and April (birthday of Septimius Severus).
A painting of Silvanus was found in 1870 by P.E. Visconti in the Sacello del Silvano (I,III,2). After the excavation it was covered with earth again, to be re-excavated by G. Calza during the First World War (Paschetto 1912, 559; Bakker 1994, 145).
Other paintings are mentioned without further details: "eleganti pitture" found "in edificio nobilmente arrichito" in 1864, possibly near the Porta Laurentina (Paschetto 1912, 553 nr. 435), and "pitture" that were perhaps found in the Terme di Porta Marina (IV,X,1-2) in 1866 (Paschetto 1912, 557 nr. 4760). In the later 19th century a painting of a mythological scene was taken to the Museo Nazionale Romano. It is not known where in Ostia it was found (Borda 1958, fig. 280; Mielsch 2001, Abb. 185).The museum
In the years 1865-1868 a museum was built in Ostia, by order of pope Pius IX (on the history of the museum of Ostia see Ietto 1996, 14-23 and Angelucci 2006). It was not a new building, but a facade was added to a much older building known as the Casone del Sale. It is still the museum of Ostia. However, in the 19th century it would not be used as museum, but only as office and store room. In 1870 Ostia became part of the new Italian state. It was now decided that the castle in mediaeval Ostia would be used as Antiquarium, and finds were taken there until 1890. Many objects from Ostia (including the painting with a mythological scene mentioned above) were taken to the Museo Nazionale Romano in Rome, that was inaugurated in 1889. In 1908 Dante Vaglieri became director of the excavations and from now on finds were taken once more to the Antiquarium in the castle. In the 1920's Guido Calza and Italo Gismondi again took up the idea of using the Casone del Sale as museum. It was modified extensively, only the outer wall of the Casone was preserved. The new museum was inaugurated by Mussolini in November 1934. When the museum was opened it does not seem to have contained many paintings. In his museum guide from 1935 Calza mentions only one, a painting of a bird (Calza 1935, 70).The first half of the 20th century
In the meantime many paintings had been found, especially in the Domus di Giove e Ganimede (I,IV,2), Caseggiato del Termopolio (I,II,5), Caseggiato di Diana (I,III,3-4), and Sacello del Silvano (I,III,2). Most of these are still in situ. In the years 1935-1937 Calza excavated insula III,X, made up of the Caseggiato del Serapide, Terme dei Sette Sapienti and Caseggiato degli Aurighi. The block contained many paintings. Up till 1942 many more paintings were found, especially in the Mitreo delle Pareti Dipinte (III,I,6), Casa delle Volte Dipinte (III,V,1), Case a Giardino (III,IX), Casa delle Pareti Gialle (III,IX,12), Domus delle Muse (III,IX,22), Caseggiato di Annio (III,XIV,4), insula IV,II (including the Caupona del Pavone (IV,II,6)), Domus dell'Aquila (IV,V,8), and Caseggiato del Sole (V,VI,1). The history of the preservation and conservation of the Ostian paintings during the late 1930's and afterwards is complicated.Strategies of the excavators
Four strategies of the excavators for the preservation and conservation can be encountered in Ostia (see also Liedtke 1995, 21-31):
- Simply leave the paintings on the wall.
- Protect the paintings with a row of roof tiles or another modern "awning".
- Prevent crumbling of the paintings by securing the edges with cement, and sometimes by filling up gaps with plaster or cement.
- Detach the paintings from the wall, fasten them on a panel, and attach the panel to the same wall using metal hooks. The detaching can be done in three ways. Stacco a massello means that all plaster and the wall behind it is removed. This never happened in Ostia. With the strappo-technique only the thin top layer with the paint is removed. This too was not done in Ostia. Instead the "normal" stacco-technique was used. First the painting is covered with cloth that is attached to the painting with a glue. With knives or saws the edge is created of the part that will be detached. Then a modern panel is set against the cloth. The cloth is wider and higher than the panel and the parts that are sticking out are folded back and nailed to the modern panel. Then the painting, cloth and panel are carefully separated from the wall with long iron bars, a procedure during which the wall and painting may be damaged. In the store rooms most of the ancient plaster behind the paint is removed. The remaining millimeters are then attached to a modern panel, and the cloth is removed.
Once the paintings had been detached they could be left in situ or taken to the museum or store rooms. Obviously we would like to know about each painting that is no longer in situ, in which building it was found, in which room and on which wall. But in many cases we do not know this, or have only partial information, or are provided with incorrect information. To some extent this is due to the frantic work in the years 1938-1942, when a large part of Ostia was excavated with only meagre documentation. But also after the Second World War, paintings were often taken to the store rooms without recording their location.Sources
What are our sources for the modern history of the paintings?
- The inventory numbers. When activity focused on one or more buildings in a particular period, we may expect to find a cluster of numbers.
- The Dutch archaeologist C.C. van Essen walked through Ostia in 1949 and described and mentioned many paintings still in situ. His work was published in 1954 in Dutch and in 1959 in Italian. In the 1980's I saw his archive at the Dutch Institute in Rome, in several boxes. It included an unpublished description of Ostia, so some more work can be done here.
- Field work. As we will see, some important clues can be found by inspecting the buildings that once contained paintings.
- There is the photo collection of the "Istituto Centrale per il Catalogo e la Documentazione" (ICCD). Many photographs of Ostian paintings were taken in 1958. They have been linked to in the Virtual Museum on the Ostia website (http://www.ostia-antica.org/vmuseum/vmuseum.htm). We have been able to improve the meta information considerably, by checking photographs with their descriptions. The ICCD photographs of paintings can be found in the Virtual Museum on the "Floor of the museum buildings" (i.e. photographs of paintings in situ) and in the "Hall of the paintings" (i.e. paintings in the museum and the various store rooms).
- There is the photo archive of the Soprintendenza. This is not online and relatively few photographs have been published of paintings in situ that were taken to the store rooms, and of the store rooms themselves. Further work in the archives will hopefully lead to further progress.
- The museum guides: Helbig 1972, Calza - Floriani Squarciapino 1962 and Floriani Squarciapino 1971. In Helbig the references to ICCD and Soprintendenza photographs (p. 548-552) are very helpful, but not without errors.
- Several recent publications. Especially important for paintings in the museum and store rooms are Liedtke 1995 and 2003, Mols 1999 (with many references to Soprintendenza and ICCD photographs), and Falzone 2004.
- Obviously the museum and store rooms in Ostia. However, the room of the paintings in the museum (Sala XI) that was opened in the early 1960's has been closed for a long time, and the paintings in the store rooms are today stacked on top of each other and are thus basically inaccessible.
Many ICCD photographs of detached paintings were taken when the paintings had been moved to an ancient building, that must be the Horrea Epagathiana (see below, "The work of C.C. van Essen"). When it comes to the store rooms we can distinguish three periods: the use of these Horrea, which was the situation in 1958 (documented by the ICCD); walls and panels in a modern store building (documented on Soprintendenza photographs); the present situation (all the paintings stacked on top of each other).The inventory numbers
The museum guides, describing the paintings in Sala XI (today closed), mention a few paintings with low inventory numbers:
- 124: Male figure with oxen. From the Terme dei Sette Sapienti, room 3, north wall. Helbig 3172; Guida p. 104 nr. 1; Mols 1999, 299 and fig. 60 = SAOA neg. A1892 (in situ).
- 142: Nilotic scene. From the Porta Laurentina necropis, tomb 17-18. Found in 1935. Helbig 3184. Guida p. 109 nr. 14. Heinzelmann 2000, Abb. 134 (in situ).
- 155: Male figure sacrificing to Hercules. From the Porta Laurentina necropolis, tomb 27. Found in 1937. Helbig 3182; Guida p. 108 nr. 11.
- 156: Silvanus. Found in the Sacello del Silvano during the First World War (see above). Helbig 3186; Guida p. 110 nr. 16.
- 196: Hypnos. From the Porta Laurentina necropolis, tomb 22. Helbig 3185; Guida p. 109 nr.15.
But then, perhaps in the years 1935-1937 (when insula III,X was being excavated), or shortly after the Second World War, a new numbering system was introduced. The lowest inventory number of this series that I am aware of is 10010, a painting of two birds from the Caseggiato degli Aurighi. Above we mentioned a painting from tomb 17-18 in the Porta Laurentina necropolis (inv. 142), found in 1935. Another painting from the same tomb has inv. nr. 10108 (according to Helbig it was found in 1937, but that must be 1934-1935, see Heinzelmann 2000, 227, tomb B1/C1). All paintings with inventory numbers higher than 10010 were taken to the museum and store rooms from this period onwards, either from newly excavated buildings, or from buildings that had been excavated earlier, such as the tombs of the Isola Sacra necropolis.
Below is a list of the known inventory numbers in this high range, of paintings, one stucco relief and one wall-mosaic. Note that there are many gaps in the list.
Inventory number Place of discovery Information 10010 Caseggiato degli Aurighi Painting of two birds. 10012 ? Unknown Inv. nr. read on photo. Painting with graffito. 10013-10017 Caseggiato degli Aurighi Many fragments of paintings with architectural motifs. 10033 Isola Sacra necropolis Painting of the Three Graces 10035 Unknown Painting of a sea-dragon. 10036-10037 Isola Sacra necropolis. Stucco relief of Apollo; painting of the deceased and a child. 10040 Terme dei Sette Sapienti Painting of fishes. 10041-10044 Isola Sacra necropolis Painting of a satyr; twp paintings of a season; painting of Venus. 10065-10067 Caseggiato IV,II,5 Two fragments; two fragments of a painting of griffins. 10069 Caseggiato IV,II,5 Fragments of paintings of an aedicula. 10074-10075 Caseggiato degli Aurighi Two fragments of paintings. 10084 Unknown Painting of a snake. Belongs to Inv. 10106, painting of a Genius and snakes. No ICCD photo. 10085-10087 Domus del Ninfeo Three fragments of the lower part of a painting: a woman followed by a child, two men in a garden, a man in a garden and two chicken. 10088 Caseggiato degli Aurighi Painting of a griffin and two birds. 10091 Isola Sacra necropolis Painting of a lion hunt. 10092 "To the west of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole" or Horrea dell'Artemide Painting of three deities, perhaps Jupiter, Minerva and Mars. 10093 Horrea dell'Artemide or Caseggiato IV,II,5 / "To the west of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole" Painting of three deities, Bacchus-Dionysos, Diana-Artemis, and Aurora or Terra Mater. 10094 Porta Romana necropolis Painting of plants and birds. 10097-10099 Caseggiato dell'Ercole Paintings of judicial scenes. 10100 Caseggiato IV,II,5 / "To the west of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole" Painting of Fortuna. 10103 Caseggiato degli Aurighi Painting of a landscape. 10104 Domus Fulminata Painting of erotes. 10105 Caseggiato degli Aurighi Painting of a landscape. 10106 Unknown Painting of a Genius and two snakes. Inv. 10084 belongs to the same painting. 10107 Domus Fulminata Painting of Odysseus and the Sirens. 10108 Porta Laurentina necropolis Painting of the deceased on a kline. 10111 Porta Laurentina necropolis Painting of Hermes-Mercurius or Bacchus-Dionysos. 10112 Domus dell'Aquila Painting of Mercurius. 10113-10115 Isola Sacra necropolis Painting of a ceiling with Mercurius, winged heads, kantharoi, and the four seasons; painting in a niche of Ajax and Kassandra (back), Odysseus (side) and perhaps Priamus (side); painting of Pyramus and Thisbe. 10117-10119 Isola Sacra necropolis Painting of a seated man and a standing woman; painting of two peacocks; painting of Mars and Venus. 10122-10126 Isola Sacra necropolis Painting of a hunting scene; painting of ships (no ICCD photo); painting of Hylas and the Nymphs; painting of a putto and ducks; wall-mosaic of the deceased on a kline (no ICCD photo). 10144 Isola Sacra necropolis Painting of a putto. 10812-10815 Santuario della Bona Dea (V,X,2) Paintings with architectural elements and winged figures. 10817 Isola Sacra necropolis Painting of a dextrarum iunctio.
Sometimes activity does indeed seem to have concentrated in specific buildings. The lowest numbers are all from the Caseggiato degli Aurighi. Then there is a series of paintings from the Isola Sacra necropolis, with one painting from the Terme dei Sette Sapienti in between. Next we find small clusters from insula IV,II, the Caseggiato degli Aurighi and the Domus del Ninfeo. These are followed by paintings from various locations: work continued in the Caseggiato degli Aurighi, the Isola Sacra necropolis, and block IV,II, but a few paintings were also taken from the Horrea dell'Artemide (uncertain), Porta Romana necropolis. Domus Fulminata, Porta Laurentina necropolis, and Domus dell'Aquila. Then there is a long series from the Isola Sacra necropolis. Paintings from the Santuario della Bona Dea in regio V and one tomb on the Isola Sacra have very high inventory numbers.
There are three paintings of which the inventory number is known, but the place of discovery not. Inv. 10012 is particularly interesting because it contains a dated graffito. The number suggests that it comes from the Caseggiato degli Aurighi. Inv. 10035 is a painting of a sea-dragon, that has been dated to the first century AD. The number suggests that it comes from the Isola Sacra necropolis. A painting of a Genius and snakes consists of two fragments, with numbers 10084 and 10106. In this case the numbers do not provide a clue.The work by C.C. van Essen
As we will see below, important progress can be made in block IV,II, containing the Caseggiato dell'Ercole. It is particularly interesting to hear what van Essen says about this building. He mentions two rooms with paintings that he compares to work in the Terme dei Sette Sapienti: a bar (which could be room 3, 10 or 13, all bars) and room 22 ("terza stanza a sin. dell'entrata su via del Pavone") (1959, 168). Paintings are mentioned furthermore in "IV,ii, Via della Caupona del Pavone, negozi su ambedue i lati dell'entrata della caupona" (1959, 175). Paintings with judicial scenes are mentioned in the Portico dell'Ercole, in a retrobottega (1959, 177). As we will see he is referring to room 16. Most interesting is his addition: "ora nella Pinacoteca degli Horrea Epagathiana". On the same page he mentions that paintings from the Casa dell'Ercole Bambino (II,VI,3-4) are in that Pinacoteca. The transferral of a painting from the Domus Fulminata to the Horrea Epagathiana is mentioned by Meiggs (1973, 445 note 2).Field work
While studying the Caseggatio dell'Ercole in 2008, I discovered that clear traces can be found of paintings that were taken to the store rooms.
Caseggiato dell'Ercole - Room 16
In this building a painting of three judicial scenes was found (inv. nrs. 10097-10099). A photo of the paintings in situ was published by Pasini (1978, Pl. 59). It was easy to identify the room in which it was found: room 16, a retrobottega (as stated by van Essen). The bricks were much damaged by the iron bars that were used to separate the paintings from the wall. For the findspot the designation "to the west of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole / ad ovest del Caseggiato dell'Ercole" has been used in error. We can read it on the signs on various ICCD photographs of the judicial scenes, but what is meant is "from the west part of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole" or "to the west of the Portico dell'Ercole". According to Helbig and the Guida the scenes were found "in a public building of the Cas. dell'Ercole / da un edificio pubblico del Caseggiato del Ercole".
The judicial scenes in room 16 of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole in situ. Pasini 1978, Pl. 59.
The same walls today. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
Caseggiato dell'Ercole - Room 18
But more progress could me made. The north-west wall of room 18 has many holes, grooves and damaged spots (see the photographs below). There can be little doubt that grooves indicate the edge of a large fragment of a painting that was taken off the wall: cement that had at first been used to secure the painting was hacked away. The grooves coincide with little holes that were meant for metal hooks to support the painting on a new modern panel. A few of these holes are in the centre of the wall, suggesting that two panels were made. In the area demarcated by the grooves the mortar and bricks show many little damaged spots, the result of the use of the iron bars to separate the painting from the wall. A good candidate for the painting to the right can be seen on ICCD neg. nr. E40825. It fits well between the little holes, and on the sign that was attached to the painting in the Horrea Epagathiana we seem to read "Caseggiato dell'Ercole".
The north-west wall of room 18 of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
Detail of the same wall. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
The same wall.
Red: ancient putlog-holes. Blue: grooves. Green: small square or rectangular holes.
Purple: large irregular holes. Yellow: irregular damage of mortar and bricks.
Photograph and colours: Jan Theo Bakker.
A painting on ICCD neg. E40825 fits well on the right part of the wall.
Caseggiato dell'Ercole - Room 22
In the Virtual Museum, on the Floor of the Museum buildings, regio IV, is a photo of a rectangular fragment of a painting in situ: E40850. The ICCD provides no further information, but it is clearly the painting that can still be seen on the north-west wall of room 22 of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole (see the photographs below). Architectural motifs can be seen on the ICCD photo. The painting is today almost white. The top was secured with cement. Why a rectangle has been preserved is not clear (were wooden structures around it in antiquity?). But something else is curious. Directly to the left of the painting are holes for modern hooks, to support a modern panel, but there are no such holes to the right, and the painting was never detached from the wall. It seems that the excavators changed their mind. Their first plan was to leave the paintings in the building in the rooms, on modern panels. Then they decided to take them to the store rooms, and the rectangular painting seems then to have been forgotten.
The north-west wall of room 22 of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
The painting on the north-west wall of room 22 of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole.
Photograph: ICCD neg. E40850.
On the north-east wall of room 22 are traces of the removal of another painting (see the photographs below). Again we see grooves and holes for metal hooks. There can be little doubt that the fragment that was removed here is seen on ICCD neg. E40816 in view of the distinct, curved shape of the upper right part. Comparison of the measurements will clinch it. Paintings in this same room are mentioned by van Essen.
The north-east wall of room 22 of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
The same wall, with grooves (blue) and holes for metal hooks (green). Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
Photograph: ICCD neg. E40816.
Several walls in the west half of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole show traces, less distinct, that may also be related to the removal of paintings. Further study is required. The same is true for other buildings of course, such as the Caseggiato degli Aurighi.The photo archive of the ICCD
The photographs in the Hall of the Paintings of the Virtual Museum were taken in the Horrea Epagathiana in 1958. Many are accompanied by a small sign with the inventory number and place of discovery. It is a big frustration that many of these cannot be read, or only partially. Perhaps though the negatives are good enough for enlargements that will make the texts readable. The paintings were later taken to a modern store building near the museum. As we will see below, there they were grouped together according to the place of discovery. This had already been done in the Horrea. So, for example, we see on E40768 three fragments of garden paintings from the Domus del Ninfeo grouped together. All four fragments on E40876 come from the Caseggiato degli Aurighi, just like the three fragments on E40828 and the two fragments on E40867. On E40754 we see four fragments of the painting with judicial scenes from room 16 in the Caseggiato dell'Ercole.The photo archive of the Soprintendenza
A few photographs of an old arrangement of the Ostian store rooms were published by Liedtke (2003): Taf. 23,45 (Sopr. Ostia B1431); Taf. 24,47 (Sopr. Ostia B1434); Taf. 26,50 (Sopr. Ostia B1425); Taf. 31,60 (Sopr. Ostia B1424); Taf. 31,61 (Sopr. Ostia B1435). These may have been taken in the early 1960's, when Sala XI in the museum was opened. Paintings are attached on the side walls, and on wooden panels resting on a metal frame in the centre of the rooms. The frame could be moved back and forth through the room by wheels on rails.
Liedtke 2003 - Taf. 23,45
On 23,45 can be seen that on a side wall irregular areas were demarcated by wooden bars. There can be little doubt that each area contains paintings from a single building. In the lower left area is only one painting. This is the painting of fishes from the Terme dei Sette Sapienti on ICCD E40832. The findspot of some of the paintings in the other two areas is known. In the upper left area are paintings from the Caseggiato degli Aurighi (inv. nrs. 10013-10017), in the right area from Caseggiato IV,II,5 (inv. nrs. 10065-10067, 10069).
Caseggiato degli Aurighi
Liedkte 2003, Taf. 23,45.
We see seven fragments from the Caseggiato degli Aurighi.
- Top left. No ICCD photo.
- Top right. On E40876.
- Center left. No ICCD photo
- Center middle. On E40876.
- Center right. On E40867.
- Bottom left. On E40828.
- Bottom right. On E40867.
We see eight fragments from Caseggiato IV,II,5.
- Top left. Room 7. On E40868.
- Top right. Room 7. On E40806.
- Center left. No ICCD photo.
- Center right. No ICCD photo.
- Bottom left. Room 6. No ICCD photo. Liedkte 1995, Abb. 5 top left, Abb. 7, Taf. 2b.
- Bottom middle left. Room 6. On E40804 and E40803.
- Bottom middle right. Room 6. On E40799.
- Bottom right. Room 6. No ICCD photo. Liedkte 1995, Abb. 5 top right, Abb. 7.
Liedtke 2003 - Taf. 24,47
On 24,47 we see a wooden panel in the centre of the same room (31,61 is the other side of this panel). To the left we see the paintings from Caseggiato IV,II,5 that were listed above. To the right of the wooden panel we see the large fragment with a curved upper part (on E40816) that comes from room 22 in the Caseggiato dell'Ercole, where traces of the removal can still be seen. To the right of that we see the left part of a smaller fragment, perhaps the lower fragment on E40825. On the sign on the latter ICCD photo we can perhaps read "Caseggiato dell'Ercole". The wooden panel is very important for the findspots in block IV,II, if we may assume that all paintings on this panel come from the same building.
Liedkte 2003, Taf. 24,47.
- Top left. Caseggiato dell'Ercole, room 16, below left judicial scene. On E40818. The sign on the painting says: "Ad ovest del Caseggiato dell'Ercole".
- Centre. No ICCD photo.
- Top right. Caseggiato dell'Ercole, room 16, below central judicial scene. Upside down. On E40763. The sign on the painting says: "Ad ovest del Caseggiato dell'Ercole".
- Bottom left (Genius and snakes). On E40800. Findspot unknown.
- Bottom middle (a coil of a snake can be seen). This must be inv. 10084 (Helbig 3188; Supplemento alla guida p. 33-34 nr. 2), belonging to the previous fragment. No ICCD photo. Findspot unknown.
- Bottom right (Fortuna). On E40764. The sign on the painting seems to say "Reg. IV, Is. II. Ad ovest del Caseg. dell'Ercole". Found in "Caseggiato IV,II,5 (alle spalle del Caseggiato dell'Ercole)" according to the Supplemento alla guida.
- Below panel. On E40833. Note the curious diagonal lines on the painting.
When discussing the paintings of judicial scenes from room 22 in the Caseggiato dell'Ercole we have seen that the designation "to the west of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole" has been used in error. What was meant is "from the west part of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole" or "to the west of the Portico dell'Ercole". I suggest that all fragments from this panel come from the Caseggiato dell'Ercole.
Liedtke 2003 - Taf. 26,50
The next photo is 26,50. We see a wooden panel with three fragments from Caseggiato IV,II,14 (no photo is available of the other side of the panel). The two large ones can be seen on E40793, E40817, E40821, and E40869.
Liedkte 2003, Taf. 26,50.
To the right of the panel seven fragments can be seen.
- First row, left. No ICCD photo.
- First row, right. No ICCD photo.
- Second row, left. No ICCD photo.
- Second row, right. On E40878.
- Third row, left. No ICCD photo.
- Third row, right. No ICCD photo.
- Fourth row. No ICCD photo.
Liedtke 2003 - Taf. 31,60
Next comes 31,60. On a wooden panel we see a painting of a griffin and two birds that was found in the Caseggiato degli Aurighi. It can be seen on E40808, E40809, and E40810. Below it is a painting that may, because of this display, come from the same building. It can be seen on E40815. On the right wall are two huge fragments that can be seen on E40831 and E40871. On the left wall we see four fragments:
Liedkte 2003, Taf. 31,60.
- Top left. On E40819.
- Top right. On E40822.
- Centre. On E40822 and E40835.
- Bottom. No ICCD photo.
Liedtke 2003 - Taf. 31,61
The last photo is 31,61. On a wooden panel we see two paintings of male figures that can be seen on E40776 and E40777. On the sign on the latter photograph we can probably read "ad ovest della Caupona del Pavone" (IV,II,6), which suggests that the fragments are from Edificio IV,II,7. The paintings on the walls to the left and right have been described above (from room 22 in the Caseggiato dell'Ercole and from Caseggiato IV,II,5).
The paintings from regio IV, insula II
Liedkte 2003, Taf. 31,61.
A first inspection of the walls of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole and Caseggiato IV,II,5 (April-May 2008) has suggested that many paintings were taken from the former building, not from a building "to the west" of it, i.e. not from IV,II,5. The latter building has hardly enough wall space to have contained more paintings than those documented there with certainty. The confusion allows us to assign yet another painting to the Caseggiato dell'Ercole: a painting of three deities, perhaps Jupiter, Minerva and Mars, reportedly found to the west of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole (inv. 10092, ICCD E40753). On E40762 We see a painting with vegetative motifs and another painting of deities next to this painting. There is a lot of confusion about the findspots of the latter two paintings, but they too may come from the Caseggiato dell'Ercole (discussed further below).
The quality of all these paintings and especially the topics (judicial scenes, deities, elaborate architectural motifs) are surprising in the rows of shops that constitute the ground floor of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole. I believe that this may have been a showroom of the painters of Ostia. That hypothesis is investigated below.Future research
Future research may include the following activities:
- See if enlargements of the ICCD photographs will make more signs readable.
- Consultation of the photographic archive of the Soprintendenza.
- Consultation of the Giornale degli Scavi.
- Take accurate measurements of the fragments in the store rooms for comparison with traces of the removal in various buildings.
- Further close inspection of the walls of various buildings.
Part 2. A possible showroom and office of the painters.
There are reasons to think that at least rooms 16-24 of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole (IV,II,2-4) were a showroom of the Ostian painters. The building was excavated in 1940. Most of the paintings found in the building were taken to the museum and store-rooms. Above I have written about the problematic modern history of the paintings from this building and established the following.
Plan of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole. After SO I.
Inspection of the ruins
- A painting of three judicial scenes was found in shop 16.
- On the north-west wall of room 18 was a large painting. The right part may have been a painting with architectural motifs.
- On the north-west wall of room 22 is a painting with architectural motifs.
- On the north-east wall of room 22 was a painting with architectural motifs and with a curved upper part.
- Several walls in the west half of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole show traces, less distinct, that may also be related to the removal of paintings. Further study is required.
The painting of three judicial scenes from shop 16. Pasini 1978, Pl. 59.
The candidate for room 18 (lower fragment). Photograph: ICCD neg. E40825.
The painting with architectural motifs in room 22. Photograph: ICCD neg. E40850.
The painting with a curved upper part from room 22. Photograph: ICCD neg. E40816.
"Ad ovest del Caseg. dell'Ercole" - "To the west of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole"
The paintings that had been taken from the walls were temporarily stored in the Horrea Epagathiana, where they were photographed by the ICCD in 1958. Many paintings were accompanied by small signs with the place of discovery and inventory number. Unfortunately, many of the signs cannot be read. There is often a very confusing description of the place of discovery of paintings: "Ad ovest del Caseg. dell'Ercole" ("To the west of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole"). We can read it on the signs on various ICCD photographs of the judicial scenes from room 16, from which we can deduce that what is meant is "from the west part of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole" or "to the west of the Portico dell'Ercole".
In the early 1960's Sala XI, the Hall of the Paintings, was opened in the museum. At about this time many paintings were also stored in store-rooms next to the museum. On photographs we see them on the side walls, and on wooden panels resting on a metal frame in the centre of the rooms. On the side walls irregular areas were demarcated with wooden bars. There can be little doubt that each area contained paintings from a single building. There are some indications that that is also true for the panels in the centre of the rooms. One has three fragments from a single building (Caseggiato IV,II,14, near the Caseggiato dell'Ercole). Another one has two fragments that are so similar that they presumably come from the same building (apparently Edificio IV,II,7, in the same block as the Caseggiato dell'Ercole).
Combining now the true meaning of "to the west of the Caseggiato del Ercole" and the information provided by the panels, more paintings can be assigned to the Caseggiato dell'Ercole. It is fair to assume that all fragments on one of the panels (see above: Liedtke 2003, Taf. 24,47) were found in the building:
- A fragment that was originally below a judicial scene in room 16 of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole.
- A fragment with an unclear representation.
- A fragment that was originally below a judicial scene in room 16 of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole (upside down on the panel).
- A Genius and snakes.
- A coil of a snake, belonging to the previous fragment.
- A painting with curious diagonal lines (turned 90 degrees to the left).
The painting of a Genius and snakes. Photograph: ICCD neg. E40800.
The painting of Fortuna. Photograph: ICCD neg. E40764.
The painting with diagonal lines (turned 90 degrees to the left). Photograph: ICCD neg. E40833.
The painting of Fortuna was found in Caseggiato IV,II,5 according to the "Supplemento alla guida". The sign on the ICCD photo seems to say "Reg. IV, Is. II. Ad ovest del Caseg. dell'Ercole". It was probably this description that led the author of the supplement (Maria Floriani Squarciapino) astray. Paintings were found in the east half of IV,II,5 and published by Liedtke. Eight fragments were in a demarcated area on a side-wall of a store-room. But I found no traces of the removal of paintings in the west half of the building, where there is also not enough wall space for many paintings. We may add that the painting of Fortuna has inventory number 10100, and that the judicial scenes from the Caseggiato dell'Ercole have numbers 10097-10099.
More paintings can hypothetically be assigned to the Caseggiato dell'Ercole:
- A painting with the lower part of three deities (perhaps Jupiter, Minerva and Mars) was found "to the west of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole" according to the sign on the ICCD photo. According to the museum guides it was found "to the west of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole" or in the Horrea dell'Artemide that are located quite mistakenly to the west of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole; total confusion.
- On E40762 we see a painting with vegetative motifs and another painting of deities (Bacchus-Dionysos, Diana-Artemis, and Aurora or Terra Mater) next to this painting. There is a lot of confusion about the findspots of the latter two paintings. The painting with vegetative motifs was found in Caseggiato IV,II,5 according to Baccini Leotardi (1978 with Tav. XIII). According to the Guida the painting with deities was found to the west of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole, according to Helbig in the Horrea dell'Artemide (V,XI,7-8). We might be inclined to think that Helbig is correct, because the depiction of Diana would explain the name of the horrea. However, according to Rickman (1971, 63) the horrea were named after a statue found in the central courtyard of the horrea. We may add that the former painting of deities has inv. nr. 10092, the latter painting inv. nr. 10093. These two paintings may therefore also come from the Caseggiato dell'Ercole.
The painting with the lower part of three deities. Photograph: ICCD neg. E40753.
The paintings of deities and of vegetative motifs next to the former painting. Photograph: ICCD neg. E40762.
The painting with vegetative motifs. Photograph: ICCD neg. E40758.
Both the east and west half of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole consist of shops. The presence of all the paintings - with good quality architectural motifs, many deities and judicial scenes - in shops is most surprising. But what is a shop? In modern Italian cities we can see that shops are used not only to sell goods, but also as small workshops and for storage. A shop is just a large rectangular room that can be used for many purposes. As to the west half of the Caseggiato dell'Ercole, there seems to be only one explanation for its use that makes sense: it was a showroom of the Ostian painters (for which we have, to the best of my knowledge, no parallels in the Roman world). Is there additional evidence for that hypothesis?
- The painting of Fortuna has a diagonal top, that is accentuated by a wide painted band. There is no diagonal, masonry structure in the Caseggiato dell'Ercole in which the painting would fit (or in Caseggiato IV,II,5 for that matter). This suggests the use of wooden planks, imitating masonry.
- The rectangular shape of the painting on the north-west wall of room 22 is surprising. Here too we may think of wooden planks.
- There is paint on two relieving arches in corridor 4: red paint on the bricks and on the mortar, thin lines of white paint on the mortar. The paint creates the illusion of very narrow layers of mortar. This illusion of narrow layers of mortar is found in a few other places in Ostia, in shrines and tombs. But there is no reason to create this illusion in a narrow corridor, a simple passage. This may therefore have been yet another example of what the painters could do.
Painted relieving arches in corridor 4. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
Painted relieving arches in corridor 4: detail. Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.
We must entertain the possibility that the painters used surrounding buildings as well. Good quality paintings were also found in building IV,II,14, a row of three shops. Building IV,II,5 seems to have been an apartment. Its paintings are characterized by griffins and swans, animals accompanying Apollo (perhaps with a reference to Dionysus; Liedtke 1995, 60). A building that is famous because of its paintings, the Caupona del Pavone (IV,II,6), is also part of the block. The original function of this building is not known. Later an internal bar was installed, which has suggested to some that it had become a hotel. Or was it perhaps the main office of the painters, where more examples of paintings could be seen on the walls and on parchment, and where the business deal was made, while a drink was offered to the customer? The building was named after a small shrine with the depiction of a peacock. The peacock is related to the cult of Dionysus, and a symbol of immortality. I do not know of any parallels for such a reference in private shrines. But it makes sense if we realize that the painters were not only active in the city, but also (and perhaps even more) in tombs. The painters may have felt that they contributed in a significant way to the afterlife of the deceased, by painting in the tombs the works of Hercules, Dionysiac motifs, mythological scenes etcetera. Technical work may also have taken place in the block, such as preparing the plaster and pigments. Here we can think of Edificio IV,II,7, with rooms grouped around a courtyard with a basin, and the rooms to the west of Caseggiato IV,II,5.
The Ostian painters are mentioned in a funeral inscription in which they call themselves collegae pingentes (CIL XIV, 4699): D(is) M(anibus) P(ubli) RAGONI | EROTIANI | COLLEGAE | PINGENTES. It gives us the name of an Ostian painter: Publius Ragonius Erotianus.
[jthb - 20-Jun-2017]