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