Funeral procession
Fragment of wall painting from the Patronus tomb.
Ca. 20 BCE.
Main panel: 38 × 168.5 cm.
Inv. No. P 37.Paris, Louvre MuseumPhoto by Sergey Sosnovskiy

Funeral procession.

Fragment of wall painting from the Patronus tomb.
Ca. 20 BCE.
Main panel: 38 × 168.5 cm.
Inv. No. P 37.

Paris, Louvre Museum.

Private collection, Campana.
Rome, the tomb near the Porta Latina. Acquired from the Campana Collection, 1863. [On the Louvre official site the origin indicated different: Rome, Porta Capena.]
The tomb of Patron, a Greek physician of the first century BC, yielded frescoes that testify to the Romans’ fondness for nature and their hope of life after death in the paradisiacal setting of the Elysian Fields. The scene represented in the Louvre frieze seems to be a ceremony to honor Patron’s manes, with a long procession making its way to the tomb of the deceased. It includes priestesses, family (his wife and daughter) and friends, most of whom are identified by Greek inscriptions.

The Painted Decoration of Patron’s Tomb

The tomb of Patron, a Greek physician of the first century BC, was discovered south of Rome, near the Capena Gate, in 1842. As well as its architectural elements with their Greek inscriptions — among them the name of the deceased — the tomb yielded frescoes of exceptional quality, only some of which Marquis Gian Pietro Campana was able to remove. These joined the Louvre in 1863, two years after the purchase of the marquis’s collection by Napoleon III. The walls of the tomb were decorated with trompe-l’oeil paintings of the verdant foliage of a garden of paradise, with birds and insects in the trees (two such details being held by the Louvre). This landscape was most likely intended to depict the abode of the dead in the Elysian Fields, illustrating Patron’s hope of finding after death an agreeable place in the Kingdom of Hades — also referred to in a poem on the external walls of the tomb, in which the deceased expresses his wish to rest in a shady garden, lively with birdsong.

A Religious Procession

This frieze decorated the upper part of the walls of the funerary chamber. It shows a procession, probably on its way to Patron’s tomb. Inscriptions identify the participants: members of the priesthood and the family and friends of the deceased. Leading the procession are two priestesses, bearing a vessel (?) and a funerary mask, followed by three young servants. In the middle of the panel, a girl called Antigona accompanies Atheno, Patron’s wife, and Appoleia, his daughter. The interpretation of the painting has posed some difficulties, as it has no known thematic equivalent. The idyllic environment provided by the decoration of the tomb, a pictorial version of Patron’s epitaph, and the presence of the priestesses in the procession may suggest that the scene depicts a ceremony to honor Patron’s manes — the visit to the tomb no doubt being inspired by the Feralia, a feast celebrated at Rome on 21 February in memory of the dead. Unless of course the painter has here depicted the Elysian Fields, assembling family and friends at Patron’s side.

An Echo of the Second and Third Pompeian Styles

The frescoes from Patron’s tomb mark the transition between the second and third Pompeian styles, as defined by August Mau in his classification of Pompeian murals published in 1879—82. In their treatment of the garden and of the naturalistic setting of the funerary procession, these frescoes are related to the Odyssey scenes in the Vatican and the garden frescoes from the Villa of Livia at Prima Porta. This type of rural landscape became very popular in the reign of Augustus, in the last decades of the first century BC. It testifies to the Romans’ fondness for nature and to the painter’s ambition to depict it realistically, peopled with familiar figures and animals, and charged with religious significance.

Astier Marie-Bénédicte

7. 5: Elysium — The Sedes Beatae

I will close this chapter with some considerations on the ways the final abodes of the blessed souls are portrayed on funerary monuments. I have already presented in Chapter Six the funerary urns decorated with scenes interpreted as the welcoming of a new soul at the doors of Elysiums (figs. 73—76), while in Chapter Five I have discussed the banqueting of the blessed in the tombs of the Aurelii and of Vibia (figs. 37—38 and fig. 45), and possibly a combat among heroes in the Tomb of the Nasonii (fig. 51). Recognizable recurring elements characterize these representations: all the urns display an open gate with triangular pediment and framing fluted columns and, on the short sides, laurel trees, palms, and birds, elements all that allude to the monumentality of the architecture and the pleasantness of the landscape. In the two banqueting scenes, the size and decoration of the stibadium, the abundance of food, and the setting al fresco suggest a perfect and refined environment where eternal joy is the norm.

p.236 Other details of this lush environment appear in a few other wall paintings of tombs from Rome. For example, the tomb of Patron, dated to 20—5 BCE, offers a complete overview of the Elysian landscape.30 Built outside the Capena Gate for the Greek physician and his family, the tomb was discovered 1842 by the art collector Giampietro Campana. After exploring the funerary chamber and removing part of the frescoes, which were later acquired by Napoleon III and given to the Louvre Museum, Campana completely backfilled the chamber, now inaccessible for further studies. According to the watercolors drawn after the excavation by the archaeologist Giampietro Secchi and the remaining fragments of the original decoration, there were no niches on the East and possibly the South walls, suggesting that the room must have been used exclusively by Patron and the immediate members of his family, whose portraits are most probably visible in the procession painted on the walls. Secchi’s watercolor of the East wall show that the paintings were divided into three registers (fig. 135). The lower one resembled a plinth in the Vitruvian crustarum marmoreaum varietates style,31 and the central and larger register displayed a landscape of verdant trees with birds, one of which is a heron, and insects. The upper register developed on at least three of the chamber’s four walls with a procession of figures some of which were accompanied by painted Greek inscriptions with their names and their relationship to the deceased.

The preserved processional panel, originally on the East wall of the tomb, reproduces the same flora that is described in the written sources as part of the landscape of the Sedes Beatae (fig. 136).32 At the center of the procession, a girl called Antigona accompanies Atheno, Patron’s p.237 wife, and Appoleia, his daughter.33 The group is framed by short trees that separate it from two young male characters to the left,34 and a woman and three children holding a bowl, a dish, a basket, and a situla to the right. The position and attributes of some characters have led most scholars to interpret the decoration as a depiction of a ceremony to honor Patron’s Manes during one of the yearly visits to the tomb, or even as the procession of family and friends held on the day of Patron’s funeral. However, the paintings’ central register and the poem inscribed on the external walls of the tomb seem to suggest otherwise. Indeed in the inscription, Patron openly expresses the wish of resting in a shaded garden lively with birdsong, and concludes the poem with these final verses: “I, Patron, how many deeds I have done for other people so to have a pleasant place in Hades”.35 The central panel is effectively portraying such a garden, in a complex array of fauna and flora that do not belong with any earthly landscape. On the contrary, we are confronted with a utopian landscape of cypresses, pine trees, olive trees, and holly oaks that combined together create an imaginary locus amoenus, as explicitly stated by the inscription (τερπνὸν τόπον). This fantastic meadow, suspended in a timeless dimension, functions according to the same cultural framework dictating the representations of the utopian gardens, the main features of which I have already discussed in Chapter Three when examining the paintings of the dining room of the Villa of Livia at Primaporta.36 The poem’s evident reference to the world of Elysium and the idyllic nature of the landscape in the central register suggest that the tomb’s decoration responded to a coherent overall program that aimed at the portrayal of Patron and his family as a group of souls that reunited in the Sedes Beatae among the blessed p.238 after their death. The family members on the upper register are not necessarily part of a procession, as it is usually argued: rather, they are spaced out in groups that are isolated one from the other by elements of landscape, mostly trees. This spatial arrangement probably reflects the individuals’ ties in life; the various groups encircle the chamber according to their social and family roles to give the ultimate impression of an extended family that occupy the communal space of the garden and that moves through it captured in poses and gestures reminiscent of those seen on the panels in the hypogeum of the Aurelii referring to the souls in Elysium (fig. 37).

30The most recent publication is: Tortorella S. I. 9. Tomba di Patron sulla Via Latina a Roma. Frammenti di decorazione pittorica. In: La Rocca E. ed. Roma: la pittura di un impero. Milano 2009, 270—271; see also Blanc N. ed. Au royaume des ombres: la peinture funéraire antique, IVe siècle avant J.-C., IVe siècle après J.-C. Musée et sites archéologiques de Saint-Romain-en-Gal, Vienne, 8 octobre 1998 — 15 janvier 1999. Paris, 1998, pp. 82—95, with earlier bibliography, and Tran Tam Tinh V. Cataloque des peintures romaines (Latium et Campanie) du Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1974, pp. 72—77. First publication of the Columbarium in Campana G. P. Di due sepolcri romani del secolo di Augusto, scoverti tra la via Latina e l’Appia presso la tomba degli Scipioni. Dissertazioni della Pontifica Accademia romana di archeologia, 11, 1852, 257—405, reprinted verbatim from the earlier edition of 1840.

31Vitruvius, De Architectura, VII. 5. 1.

32Dimensions: H. 0.38 m; W. 1.685 m. Louvre, Campana collection, inv, # P 37.



35Ghedini F., Salvadori M. Vigne e verzieri nel repertorio funerario romano: fra tradizione e innovazione. Rivista di Archeologia 23, 1999, 89—90.

36See: Chapter Three, section 3. 3, 75—77.

Roberta Casagrande-Kim (2012)
Au royaume des ombres. La peinture funéraire antique. IVe siècle avant J.-C. — IVe siècle après J.-C., Musée et sites archéologiques de Saint-Romain-en-Gal, Vienne, 1998, pp. 82—91.
T. Tam Tinh, Catalogue des peintures romaines (Latium et Campanie) du Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1974, n 51, pp. 72—77.
(сс) 2019. Photo: Sergey Sosnovskiy (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Text: museum label.
Exhibition: “A Dream of Italy. The Marquis Campana Collection”. Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum, 17.07.2019—20.10.2019).
© 2020. Description (1):
© 2020. Description (2): Roberta Casagrande-Kim. The Journey to the Underworld: Topography, Landscape, and Divine Inhabitants of the Roman Hades. Columbia University, 2012. P. 236—238.
Keywords: ζωγραφικήί pictura ars picturae painting pittura malerei peinture φρεσκογραφία τοιχογραφία νωπογραφία wall fresco frescos frescoes opera parietale murale opere parietali murali affresco affreschi freskomalerei frischmalerei wandmalerei fresko fresken fresque fresques pintura mural ρωμαϊκές roman romana romano romani römisch römische römisches römischen römischer romain romaine romains romaines epigraphia epigraphy inscription iscrizione epigrafia epigraphik epigrafik inschrift épigraphie ελληνική greek griechische grecque gravestone funerary inscriptions epitaph in pietra tombale epitaffio grabstein-inschrift de pierre épitaphe female dress clothes clothing garment abbigliamento femminile damenbekleidung vêtements pour femmes γυναικεία ρούχα hairdo hairstyle pettinatura acconciatura weibliche frisur coiffure féminine θηλυκό χτένισμα tree albero baum arbre δέντρο puer boy bambino ragazzino junge knabe garçon αγόρι παιδί tunica tunic tunika tunique from the campana collection collezione sammlung capite velato caput velatum veiled with covered head uxor uxorem wife moglie ehefrau femme épouse γυναίκα σύζυγος rural pastoral bucolic landscape paesaggio pastorale bucolico rurale ländliche landschaft paysage bucolique ποιμενικό αγροτικό βουκολικό τοπίο children bambini kinder enfants tomb tomba gruft tombeau priestess sacerdotessa priesterin prêtresse sacrificatrice rake rastrello rechen râteau τσουγκράνα instrumentum agriculturae agricultural tool strumento agricolo landwirtschaftliches werkzeug outil agricole γεωργικό εργαλείο burial funeral mask maschera funeraria trauermaske masque funéraire μάσκα κηδείας procession processione funebre trauerzug toga praetexta pretesta toge prétexte patron fragment of patronus inv no p 37