Thalia.

Fresco from Stabiae, Villa San Marco, room 1.
H. 129 cm, W. 129 cm.
Inv. No. 62523.

Castellammare di Stabia, Antiquarium stabiano
(Antiquarium stabiano)

Origin:
Castellamare di Stabia, Varano hill, Villa San Marco, Room 1 (The Upper Portico).
Description:
Thalia (the Muse of Comedy) was mistakenly identified as Melpomene (the Muse of Tragedy) by the authors of the catalog and the organizers of the exhibition. The attributes of Thalia are comic mask, shepherd’s staff, ivy wreath. — Site editors’ note.

Rooms 1—2. The upper portico had its three arms, with special spiral columns, widely open on to the Gulf of Naples. In the Neronian age it replaced an earlier peristyle, and it was about to be completed in 79 AD. The walls were decorated with a red socle underlying white panels with Apollo-related scenes, the ceiling with large mythological compositions framed by wide borders with fantasy motives.

Melpomene

Fresco: 129 cm high, 129 cm wide
Inv. 62523

Provenance: Castellammare di Stabia, Varano hill, Villa San Marco, Room 1

The muse is shown standing on a background consisting of a square carpet, whose borders are decorated with wave motif. The carpet hangs before a red panel and is inserted in a fantasy recess imitating a ceiling caisson. A horizontal fascia develops below, with volutes and golden griffins facing each other. Melpomene’s face turns slightly to her right, almost in an inspired countenance, with half-closed lips and eyes looking upwards. The head is adorned with a twig of green leaves and is covered in a yellow headdress whence curly dark hair flow down the sides. She wears — under a mantle, out-turned on the right shoulder and falling down the right flank — a green tunic draped with ample folds. The left hand rests on a barely visible tragic mask apparently standing on a pillar, while the right hand holds a shepherd’s stick. The fresco was the central painting of one of the intermediate compartments of the upper portico ceiling, built in the last part of the villa’s existence.

The decorative system deployed through large concentric compositions with central paintings in correspondence of the spaces between columns.

The identification of Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, is due to the mask and stick attributes, also found in other paintings, such as the one coming from the Iulia Felix (II 4, 2) estates at Pompeii (Pitture di Ercolano II tav. IV, 1760, now in the Louvre). At Pompeii the muse is always shown with at least one of the attributes. Ours is one of the replicas at the highest levels of artistic refinement in terms of expressive power and solemnity of countenance.

Giovanna Bonifacio

Sources: G. Bonifacio, in Pitture nella reggia dalle città sepolte, Napoli 1999, p. 37.

Credits:
(ññ) 2008. Photo: Sergey Sosnovskiy (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Exhibition “Otium ludens” (Saint Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, December 7, 2007 — March 30, 2008).
Text: museum label.
© 2007. Description: AA. VV. Otium ludens. Stabiae - at the heart of the Roman Empire. Nicola Longobardi, Castellammare di Stabia (Na), 2007. P. 123.
THE GALLERY OF ANCIENT ART
Keywords: frescos frescoes fresco from Stabiae Villa San Marco room 1 fourth style IV style muse muses musen musa Thalia so-called Melpomene comic mask twig of leaves crab hippocamp hippocampus palmette lily cornucopia griffin gryphon shepherd crook stick pedum female clothes clothing garments cloak tunic twisted column wave-like ornament decor ornamental pattern design motif Inv No 62523
HISTORY OF ANCIENT ROME