Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero

The Villas of Oplontis near Pompeii

Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero

Head of Venus (Aphrodite)

Head of Venus

This head of Venus (the Greek Aphrodite) was displayed along a path in the north garden of Villa A between the portraits of the Julio-Claudian woman and boy in this exhibition. A favorable comparison between the goddess and the woman would have been intended.


Two Portrait Heads

Portrait of a Woman

This woman wears a hairstyle that was popular in the early Julio-Claudian era, especially during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius (AD 14–37), and her facial features resemble those of imperial women of this period. She might be a member of the imperial family, but if so, her identity remains unknown. She may instead be an elite woman who chose to be portrayed in the style of the court.

Portrait of a Boy

This portrait of a young Julio-Claudian boy is thought to date to the period of the Emperor Claudius (AD 41–54), Nero’s immediate predecessor. Some scholars have proposed that he is the young Nero, but it is difficult to establish his identity. He could be a private individual whose image was modeled on court portraiture.


Atrium View

3D reconstruction

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See a panoramic view of the atrium and the ancient Second Style wall paintings that are still in place. The view of the atrium is partially reconstructed to show water in the pool in the center of the floor (the impluvium). Rainwater was collected here from an open skylight in the roof. The masonry wall with a directional arrow on it is a modern reinforcing wall. In antiquity you would have been able to look out from here through a large window at a panoramic view of the Bay of Naples.


Atrium (Room 5)

The atrium

Wall painting from the Villa A atrium

The atrium was the traditional hearth of a Roman home. In the homes of the wealthy and politically powerful, the master of the house held court here each morning, receiving his clients and others who depended on his patronage, discussing business with each of them, and giving them a daily allowance. This obligatory daily ritual was called the salutation (salutatio).

Each of the two wall paintings that the Italian archaeologists re-erected in the atrium of Villa A (the east and west walls of room 5) portrays a richly ornamented building that resembles both a palace and a theatrical stage set and may also recall the appearance of contemporary luxury villas.

Displayed here are several large fragments of wall painting of the so-called Second Pompeian Style from the villa’s atrium, only recently identified by the Oplontis Project team as belonging to a previously unknown upper level of the atrium wall. The atrium paintings are among the finest Roman murals known, and the discovery of the upper story of the wall represents an important contribution to our knowledge of Roman visual art in the late Republican era.

Proper interpretation of the imagery of this atrium may offer clues for understanding Roman elite intentions in this turbulent time. Military successes of triumphant generals, alluded to here by the rows of shields mounted on the upper part of the wall, brought unprecedented power and wealth that were put on display to impress peers, clients, and other visitors.

Images of male ancestors, displayed in the atrium of an aristocratic house, testified to the family’s noble lineage. The heads framed by the round shields may not only allude to military success but may also represent a form of honorific ancestor portrait.

Fragment of Wall Painting with Second Style Colonnade

Fragment of wall painting

This fragment depicts a closely spaced row of columns with the remains of a door lintel either attached to or running behind the column at the far right. Above the lintel is blue sky with traces of a garland sketched in red. Although we do not know which room this fragment comes from, the monumental colonnaded architecture it depicts recalls that of the Atrium (5) and the Grand Oecus (15). The colors, however, are more like those of Atrium’s paintings. It is possible that this fragment comes from one of the destroyed Atrium walls.

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