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Paintings of religious feasts

Below are photographs of two fragments of a wall-painting, found in 1868 at an unknown location in the south part of Ostia, near the Campus of the Magna Mater. According to H. Stern the painting has to be dated to the years 209-211 AD. He argues that it depicted the months. The human figures are children (or slaves?). The size of the fragments is 1.10 x 0.59 and 0.98 x 0.49 metres. The length of the entire painting must have been 6 to 7 metres. The fragments are now in the Vatican Museums.

In the left part of the first painting is a reference to a feast of Diana on August 13.

Wall-painting in the Vatican museums.
Left: August (feast of Diana). Right: September (Vendemia).
Stern, ANRW II,12,2, Pl. IX.

Detail of August.

The feast is described by the Augustan poet Grattius Faliscus, Cynegetica ("The Chase"), 479-496. The feast is mentioned in relation to cures for plagues, in which fire (and Vulcanus) played an important role:

"A thousand plagues hold their victims, and their power transcends our care. Come, dismiss such cares (our confidence is not so great in our own resources), dismiss them, my mind: the deity must be summoned from high Olympus and the protection of the gods invoked by suppliant ritual. For that reason we construct cross-road shrines in groves of soaring trees and set our sharp-pointed torches hard by the woodland precinct of Diana, and the whelps are decked with the wonted wreath, and at the centre of the cross-roads in the grove the hunters fling down among the flowers the very weapons which now keep holiday in the festal peace of the sacred rites. Then the wine-cask and cakes steaming on a green-wood tray lead the procession, with a young goat thrusting horns forth from tender brow, and fruit even now clinging to the branches, after the fashion of a lustral ritual at which all the youth both purify themselves in honour of the Goddess and render sacrifice for the bounty of the year. Therefore, when her grace is won, the Goddess answers generously in those directions where you sue for help; whether your greater anxiety is to master the forest or to elude the plagues and threats of destiny, the Maiden is your mighty affiance and protection." (translation Loeb, Minor Latin Poets)

A statue of Diana on a column has been painted. She holds a bow and is taking an arrow from the quiver on her back. She is flanked by two tall torches, connected by a cross-bar above her head. To the right of the statue are four children, raising torches towards Diana. To the left of the statue are traces of two children with sacrificial animals.

In the right part of the first painting are five children. Two are carrying bowls with grapes. One of these and another child carry poles with a small cross-bar from which bunches of grapes are hanging down, and with a bust on top. The busts probably depict Jupiter and Liber Pater-Bacchus. The child at the right end holds a stick with a small cross-bar in his right hand and a large object in his left. The feast that is depicted is the Vendemia, taking place on September 5.

Detail of September.

In the left part of the second fragment the Navigium Isidis, taking place on March 5, is depicted. A ship has been transported to the sea and set afloat. The empty wagon is returning. To the right is a reference to a feast related to the Emperor, in view of the presence of a banner (vexillum). On top of the banner are three busts, probably of Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta. It is then a reference to the birthday of Septimius Severus, April 9.

Wall-painting in the Vatican museums.
Left: March (Navigium Isidis). Right: April (birthday of Septimius Severus).
Stern, ANRW II,12,2, Pl. VIII.

Wall-painting in the Vatican museums.
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