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HOME : Classical Antiquities : Classical Masterpieces : Fresco Depicting a Procession
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Fresco Depicting a Procession - LA.570
Origin: Southern Italy
Circa: 450 BC to 250 BC
Dimensions: 41" (104.1cm) high x 32" (81.3cm) wide
Collection: Classical Antiquities
Medium: Fresco, Plaster

Additional Information: Korea

Location: Great Britain
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With a profusion of bright colours and vivid architectural elements, this fresco from Paestum, the greatest city of Magna Graecia stands as an enduring tribute to the detail, naturalism ad adaptability with which the ancient Greeks approached their fine arts. This tall pentagonal composition features vivid pigments for greatest effect, with clear bold fields of colour that intersect each other with clearly defined linear boundaries. The use of these fields of colour makes for an instantly legible and appreciable vignette.

A luxuriantly leaved palmette fills the top half of the relief. Some of the leaves stretch up vertically, others undulate to the sides, and two long vine-like extremities course out to the edge of the triangular top. Below the palmette, a strong line of red pigment separates the leaves from a band of egg- and-dart moulding, which has been painted in red and bright cerulean blue pigments. Below the moulding, a procession takes place: a dark-skinned youth, sitting proudly astride a horse, rides across the scene from left to right. A faithful long-limbed hunting dog follows behind him, and to his right, a fair-skinned goddess beckons the youth onwards. With her fine features, elegant robes and patera cradled in her arm, she is Persephone, goddess of the bountiful harvest and queen of the underworld realm, Hades.

Persephone, after being abducted by the king of the underworld Hades, was later released thanks to her mother Demeter. On releasing her, Hades gave her a pomegranate. When she later ate it, it bound her to the underworld, where she had to stay there one-third of the year, while she spent the rest with her mother. This myth is a symbol of the budding and dying of nature.

These figures have been painted with passion, but also economy, so that their spare forms remain apprehensible even from a distance. Both collected and exuberant, the youth, the horse, the dog, and the goddess are outstanding examples of the artistic style of Magna Graecia and Paestum in particular.

The southern regions of Italy, well watered by rivers, fertile with pleasant terrain for cities and harbours, attracted the wandering Greeks of the Aegean from the days of ancient Mycenae. The islands of the Aegean archipelago were small, resource-poor and often crowded. For the able sea-faring Greeks, the plains of southern Italy and Sicily offered pasture, resources and respite from their travels. By the middle of the first millennium BC, Magna Graecia, as it became to be known, contained some of the most lavish cities in the ancient world. Cities such as Sybaris were known for their wealth, and the Sicilian city of Agrigento built beautiful temples in the Classical style. But for all of their wealth and graceful architecture, none of the cities of Magna Graecia approached Paestum in its size, wealth or architecture.

By the early 5th century BC, the Italian peninsula was becoming Roman, as the last of the tyrannical kings was expelled and the Republic founded. However, the south was still very much Greek and the economic and political security of Magna Graecia and its kings remained secure. Paestum, originally founded under the name ‘Poseidonia’, was still the jewel of these Greek cities, renowned for its monuments and for its distinctive artistic style.

While its temples were clearly modelled on the temple of Zeus at Olympia, the decorative arts of Paestum are distinctively local. The fresco is a prime example of its local style. Bright colours, clear forms and deliberate registered compositions define the fresco style of Paestum. The inclusion of a pomegranate, a classical motif of great durability, links the painting to the one from the Spina-Gaudo necropolis outside the ancient city. Another relief featuring the Charon again from the same necropolis and now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Paestum, presents a similar triangular inclusion.

For further bibliographical references: Bennet M. and A. Paul, Magna Graecia: Greek art from South Italy and Sicily, Cleveland, 2002; Hafner, G. Art of Rome, Etruria and Magna Graecia, New York, 1969; Napoli, M. Paestum, Novara, 1970.

Hinks, r.P. Catalogue of the Greek Etruscan and Roman Paintings and Mosaics in the British Museum, London 1933; Ling, R. Roman Painting, Cambridge 1991; Le Peinture de Pompei. Temoignages de l'art romain dans la zone ensevelie par Vesuve en 79 ap. J-C. Vols I and II, Paris 1993; Pompei, Pitture e Mosaici Vol VIII, Rome 1988; Schwinzer, E. Schwenbende Gruppen in der pompejianischen Wandmalerei, Wurzburg 1979. - (LA.570)


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