Ca. 20 BCE.
Main panel: 38 × 168.5 cm. Inv. No. P 37.Paris, Louvre MuseumPhoto by Sergey Sosnovskiy
Ca. 20 BCE.
Main panel: 38 × 168.5 cm.
Paris, Louvre Museum.
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—
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—
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—
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—
T. Tam Tinh, Catalogue des peintures romaines (Latium et Campanie) du Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1974, n 51, pp. 72—