Narcissus at the fountain
From the villa of Petraro, near Stabiae.
95 × 95 cm.
Inv. No. 61002.
Naples, National Archaeological Museum
This painting represents the myth of the young Narcissus at the fountain, which decorated the west wall of the frigidarium
at the villa, framed by ridged pilaster strips with cushion capitals and necking with ovoli
. The white plaster base has a double cornice with ovoli
and fillets, showing a young man in a dominant position, seated in a languid pose on a rock. His right hand clasps a fold of the mantle which covers his shoulders and his knee, while the left hand rests on the rock, acting as a support. His head is slightly bent, and his hair is long and wavy with strong chiaroscuro tones. His legs, like the rest of his body, hang loosely: the right leg is bent and the left extended in the foreground, resting on the base of the column which frames the scene on the left. The young man is looking towards a pool, which can be glimpsed below the rock and reflects his face. Behind him to the right a cupid advances holding a torch, the light shining down, who is the bearer of the sad omen of death. The scene consists of the column in the foreground, a simple structural element, and on the opposite side a large leafy tree with highlights in chiaroscuro showing jagged branches laden with leaves.
This scene is typical of the many versions of the myth painted in the Vesuvian area. The allusion to water is perfect for an environment like the frigidarium, and recurs in the representation of the river god which decorated the facing wall in the same room.
The decorative style, classicism and impressionist technique are typical of the Neronian period. This painting shows stylistic features of an atelier working just before the eruption of Vesuvius. In fact, the decoration of the baths was halted by the catastrophe on 24th August 79 AD while it was still being painted, as is evident from the excavations.
Anna Maria Sodo