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Regio III - Insula V - Casa delle Volte Dipinte (III,V,1)

The House of the Painted Vaults is an isolated building on a square to the north-east of the Garden Houses. It was built in the Hadrianic period, c. 120 AD (opus latericium). It was unearthed in the years 1938-1942. The excavators could enter the building through a small window, and entered rooms that were only half filled with rubble. They saw paintings on the walls and vaulted ceilings that had been preserved very well, but have deteriorated considerably since.

The building could receive light from all four sides. Therefore the rooms are situated along a corridor (room III), not a courtyard. The corridor could be entered from the square, at the north and south side. In the west part of the building is vestibule I. Over the entrance is a tympanum. The rooms on the west side seem to have formed a single habitation. Room II is the largest room. Here paintings from the Antonine period (c. 145-150 AD) have been preserved. On walls a and d are architectural elements, human figures and animals on a yellow background. The lower part of the walls has paintings imitating yellow marble. On the other side of the vestibule is dining-room (triclinium) XII, and room XI. Both rooms have Antonine paintings. In room XII, on walls a, b and c, are red architectural motifs, female dancing figures (related to the cult of Dionysus?), and a figure of Priapus (a bearded male herm), on a yellow background. Red and yellow paintings are also on the ceiling. There are similar paintings in room XI, preserved on walls b and c. On wall b are a small landscape and a head of Zeus-Ammon.

Plan of the ground floor of the building. North is to the left.
Felletti Maj 1960, fig. 2.

The east half of the ground floor seems to have been used as hotel. All rooms on this side could be locked individually, witness the thresholds with pivot-holes. The rooms were not connected with each other. In the west half such thresholds are not found, and here all rooms are connected. The manager of the hotel may have lived there. Bedroom IV was in the Antonine period a "yellow room". In the Severan period the walls and the ceiling were repainted, and it is this famous repainting that gave the building its name. On walls a and d are panels and various motifs, including a glass vase with flowers. The Severan paintings on the ceiling have been preserved very well. In the centre is a horseman on a winged horse (Pegasus). This scene is surrounded by eight radiating bands, erotes, pygmies and birds. In rooms V (walls a, b and d) and VI Antonine paintings on a white background have been preserved. In bedroom V are architectural motifs, small landscapes and animals. On the ceiling are isolated motifs, including griffins. In this room is also an erotic scene, perhaps from the years 240-250 AD. The scene reflects one of the services of the hotel. The paintings in bedroom VI are similar to those in V. In the centre of the ceiling was a winged head of Medusa. On the floor of most of the main rooms are geometric black-and-white mosaics.

Room VII was a kitchen, with a hearth and a low bench, below which is a drainage channel. Room VIII, an understairs, may have been used for storage. Room IX was a bathroom and contains a masonry basin. Water was taken to this room from a large cistern, that was set against the west part of the north facade in the fourth century.

Plan of the ground floor with black-and-white, geometric mosaics. North is to the left.
Felletti Maj 1960, fig. 1.

The last room on the ground floor is Room X. In the later third or the first half of the fourth century this became a bar, with a counter in the north-west corner. Water was piped to the bar from the cistern on the street. On the south wall is a curious painting from the Antonine period. Above and below are wide bands. Between the bands are some structures and a number of figures. In the centre of the upper part of the painting an imago clipeata with the bust of a bearded man, wearing a tunica, has been preserved (a deceased pater familias?). In the lower part of the painting are three scenes. To the left is a pseudo-aedicula. In its niche is a cylindrical vessel with a conical lid (an urn?). To the right are four figures. The first one is beardless and wearing a toga (the son and heir?). His right hand, making an inviting gesture, is stretched out towards the vessel. The next two are wearing a tunica, the last one a mantle with hood (cucullus). The last figure is standing a little lower than the central two. All are turned towards the pseudo-aedicula. In the central part we see a young, beardless person, wearing a tunica, the head wreathed. Then the head of a child has been preserved. In the right hand part a wall of a building and a balcony might be visible. There are remains of a figure above the "balcony". Below it is another figure, wearing a toga and seemingly addressing the person above. One hand is stretched out upwards, the other holds an unguentarium of green glass.

Drawing of the painting in room X, after an old photograph.
Felletti Maj 1961, fig. 12.

Explanatory texts have been painted over the figures, partly names:

[...]VIOL[...]IA (perhaps a reference to the violae dies, a day on which the graves were garlanded with violets)
AGATETVCV (= Agathe Tuche, Fortuna)

The first floor was also used as hotel. It was reached froom the street, along a staircase with travertine steps in the northeast corner. Over the entrance, in the facade, was a female protome of terracotta. It was stolen shortly after the excavation. Halfway is a landing with an altar. The altar was set against the south wall, in a large floor niche. It is made of brick and tufa stones, and has a bowl-shaped depression in the top. The staircase continued to the second floor. The lay-out of the first floor is similar to that of the ground floor. Rooms are arranged on either side of corridor XVI. A small corridor (XXV) leads to bathroom XXIV and kitchen XXVI. At the end of corridor XXV is a latrine, and here a small staircase begins. In the kitchen are a basin and a large hearth.

Plan of the first floor of the building. North is to the left.
Felletti Maj 1960, fig. 2.

The building to the north of the hotel was probably a stable, used by the guests.

Photographs and drawings

The square with the building, seen from the south. To the right is the Caseggiato delle Trifore.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The north facade, with a door leading to the central corridor (left)
and the late antique cistern (right). Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

The west half of the first floor, seen from the north.
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Room XXIII on the first floor, seen through the entrance (from the west).
Photograph: Jan Theo Bakker.

Reconstruction drawing of the building, seen from the north-west.
Felletti Maj 1960, fig. 5.

[jthb - 3-Feb-2004]