To the north-east of the Forum the Insula of the Paintings was erected in the Hadrianic period. This block consisted of a domus, the House of Jove and Ganymede (I,IV,2), and two medianum-apartments, the House of the Infant Bacchus (I,IV,3) and the House of the Paintings (I,IV,4). The houses are arranged in an L-shape around a garden. To the east of the garden is a row of shops (I,IV,1). The domus will be described here. The block was excavated partly by Rodolfo Lanciani in 1878 and shortly after the First World War by Guido Calza.
The main entrance was on the west side (vestibule 28). There was a secondary entrance from the south, from Via di Diana (vestibule 37). The rooms are arranged around a corridor (29-30) and an open courtyard (26). From the courtyard the garden could be accessed. At the level of the first floor the courtyard was surrounded by windows. The courtyard is flanked by two main, representative rooms (25 and 27). Both are two stories high (ground floor and first floor; c. 6 metres). Room 27 is the largest room in the building: 6.75 x 8.75 metres. Most of the first floor belonged to the domus, and could be reached along a wooden staircase in room 41. An external staircase with travertine steps (38) led to the other stories. Room 36, on the corner of Via di Diana and Via dei Dipinti, was a shop. There was another small shop on Via di Diana (39).
Plan of the houses in the block, Hadrianic phase.
Ground floor (top) and first floor (bottom).
North is to the left. DeLaine 1995, fig. 5,2.
In the 180's modifications took place. The door in the back of vestibule 37 was blocked. Shop 36 could no longer be accessed from the domus. At the east end of corridor 29-30 a new, small room was created (31). Rooms 40 and 41 became independent shops. In the north part of 41 an internal staircase was built (32). A wide passage in the south wall of courtyard 26 was blocked, as were the windows in the courtyard at the level of the first floor. The door between rooms 24 and 25 was blocked; room 24 was from now on only accessible through a new doorway in vestibule 28.
In this period the building was decorated with high-quality paintings. On the paintings a graffito was found which mentions the month Commodus: VII Kal Commodas. Commodus had introduced a month called Commodus (August or perhaps September). After his death the original name was restored. Therefore the paintings cannot have been applied later than 192 AD. Unfortunately much paint that had been applied dry instead of 'al fresco' has disappeared. In room 27 are depictions of Dionysus, Flora, Venus rising from the sea, philosophers, poets, and maenads. The central picture on the rear wall shows Jove and Ganymede, to the left of which are Leda and the swan. The figures seem to float in front of the panels that are meant to frame them. In corridor 29-30 and in room 33 are aediculae on a red and yellow background. Sometimes tiny landscapes were painted in the aediculae. On the floors of the main rooms are geometric black-and-white mosaics, belonging to the first, Hadrianic phase.
In the Severan period a dividing wall was erected in the garden, presumably to block the Caseggiato dei Dolii (I,IV,5) from sight: this became a commercial establishment in this period. Against the south side of the dividing wall a pseudo-aedicula was set, a small shrine with a marble statue of Jupiter (found in situ), with sceptre and eagle. In the niche two eagles, referring to Jupiter, were painted on a purple background. The lower part of the niche was closed off by some sort of door.
Plan of the houses in the block, Severan period.
Ground floor (top) and first floor (bottom).
North is to the left. DeLaine 1995, fig. 5,4.
In the third century or later further modifications took place. The door connecting courtyard 26 and the garden was blocked. Against the outside of the blocking a basin was set. The garden was paved with basalt blocks, to the north and south of the dividing wall, and rooms were built on top. All this has now disappeared.
At the end of the third or in the first half of the fourth century the rooms of the block, the former garden and the street were covered with building rubbish and broken amphorae, reaching a height of 2-5 metres. On top a new level of beaten earth was created. On the level of the first floor new rooms were created with rough opus vittatum, and on the first floor doorways and windows were hacked out.
Originally the house must have been inhabited by a very wealthy Ostian, if we keep in mind what must have been the price of the ground in this part of town. Graffiti in room 31 suggest that at the end of the second or in the third century this room was used for prostitution. Calza and Clarke believe that it was also visited by male homosexuals, which would be suggested by the painting of Jove and Ganimede and the graffiti (mentioning cinaedi). This may be true, but Clarke's conclusion that it was a homosexual brothel is not supported by the graffiti, and the various figures depicted in room 27 are evidence of an intellectual climate, rather than a reference to homosexual prostitution. The fact that a room was used for prostitution suggests that the building had become a hotel, in the Severan period or the third century. One of the graffiti states that the sexual intercourse took place hic ad Callinicum ("Here at Callinicus' place"). Callinicus may have been the caretaker of the hotel. Several other graffiti were found in the building, showing people, gladiators, horses, ships etcetera. The late-antique modifications in the garden (floors of basalt blocks, rooms) seem to have belonged to a bakery.