Naples, National Archaeological Museum
(Napoli, Museo archeologico nazionale)
Preparation of a satyr play, mosaic from Pompeii, House of the Tragic Poet (VI, 8, 5).
The theme of this celebrated mosaic is the preparation of the actors for a satyr play, the performance that traditionally concluded the Greek theatrical trilogy in classic times. The action is portrayed within a portico with Ionic columns decorated with oscilla, garlands and streamers and a frieze comprising vases and herms. Seated to the right and wearing the same mantle (himation) as the statues of Attic playwrights from the 4th century B.C. is the leader of the chorus, possibly also the author of the comedy. He is watching two actors partly dressed in goatskin costumes who are practising dance steps to the music of an aulos played by a musician who is wearing a mask and a sumptuous costume with a garland on his head. On the right an assistant is helping another actor into the costume of Silenus. Masks from both tragedy and satyr plays are scattered about. In reproducing in mosaic the original painting, which dated from the late 4th or early 3rd century B.C. and may have been a votive offering for victory in a theatrical contest, the Roman mosaicist, working in the Flavian era, got the illusion of space created by the side pilasters in the foreground and the columns further back irremediably wrong. We have here a proto-II style similar to that found in Macedonian painted tombs.