The term Pompeian painting summarizes the whole mural painting in Pompeian houses of the period between the end of the second century B.C and 79 A.D. Pompeian wall paintings were: fresco, tempera and encaustic paintings.
The fresco painting was done on plaster of fresh lime with ground pigments in water diluted .
The tempera painting was performed by diluting the colors sticky and gummy solvents, with the egg yolk and the wax.
The encaustic painting, instead, was achieved with colors mixed with wax.
The First style, also referred to as structural or incrustation style was popular from the samnite age (150 B.C) up to 80 B.C.. This painting technique, widespread both in public buildings and at home, imitates, using in some cases elements in stucco relief, the lining of the walls in opus quadratum and marble slabs, known as crusta, hence the name “incrustation style “.
The first style paintings are divided, following a fixed repetition, into three areas: an upper band decorated with shiny stucco frames, a median strip, treble, with the predominant colors red and black painted, but also purple, yellow -green, that looks like marble, granite or alabaster, a plinth or base, usually yellow.
The paintings of this style also have a small architectural elements, such as pillars for the vertical division of the surfaces. In the archaeological excavations of Pompeii, we can admire this style in the Basilica, in the temple of Jupiter, in the House of the Faun and in the House of Sallustio, in those ones of Herculaneum in the Samnite House.
The second Pompeian style also referred to as the architectural style, is placed in the period from 80 B.C until at the end of the first century B.C.. In this kind of painting items such as picture frames and friezes with plant shoots are painted instead of made up of plaster.
Compared to the first style, innovation is provided by the effect of trompe-l’oeil that has been created on the walls, where instead of the base are painted into the foreground pedestals with fake colonnades, aedicules and doors behind which there are perspective views.
In Pompeii, we can admire this style in the Villa of the Mysteries and in Obellius Firmo’s houses, in the house of the Labyrinth, of the Silver Wedding and of the Criptoportico.
The Third style, or ornate style, from the chronological point of view, took place of the second style and came up to the middle of the first century A.D., at the time of Claudius (41-54). During this period the perspective and the tridimensionality were completely overtrurned by flat structures with monochrome backgrounds, mostly dark, similar to curtains, upholstery, and small panels (pinakes,) depicting scenes of various kind, painted in the middle with light colors.
In the archaeological excavations of Pompeii we can find panels painted with this style into the wall of the dining room of Villa della Porta Marina and in Lucretius Fronto’s House. Other examples of this style can be found in the Villa Imperiale at Pompeii, in Boscotrecase, and in that one of Agrippa Posthumus.
The third style then gave way to the last style, the 4th style, also called last style.
The fourth Pompeian style or illusionism prospective estabilishes itself in the age of Nero and it stand out by the inclusion of fantastic architecture and great optical effect (House of the Faun in Pompeii and Domus Aurea in Rome).
The most of the Pompeian villas were decorated with paintings in this style after the reconstruction of the town following the disastrous earthquake of 62, which caused significant damage in the town.
The fourth style is characterized by a revival of elements and decorative formulas that have already been tried before: imitations of marble upholsteries, fake architectures and trompe-l’oeil of the second style come back in fashion, but also the decorations with chandeliers, winged figures, plant shoots, characteristic of the third style.
Examples of great value in Pompeii we can find them in the House of the Faun and in the House of Dioskuri (House of Castor and Pollux), probably decorated by artists from the same workshop. We can find, always in Pompeii another example of the fourth style , the House of Menander, in whose atrium are valuable small paintings with scenes from the Trojan War; one of the most representative is that one that depicts the encounter of Priam, Menelaus and Helen in the palace, while Ajax chasing Cassandra who tries in vain defence by the Palladio.