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Villa of Publius Fannius Synistor

Description of the Villa

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A broad flight of steps led up from the villa's main point of entry (a) to a porticoed vestibule (b). Several rooms opened off this vestibule, the rooms on the north side (d and c) leading through to a large peristyle (e) which had rooms off all but its west side.

Although there were many rooms off the peristyle, it is the rooms that lie on its north side that are of particular interest as these rooms were the source of the villa's notable frescoes. As with many excavations of the period the work was carried out in a less than scientific manner. The frescoes were stripped from the walls and auctioned off to the highest bidder. Most of the frescoes went to the Metropolitan Museum in New York while some remained in Naples and others went to museums in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The large room (g) in the north east corner of the villa was possibly a second triclinium. It was richly decorated, mostly in reds and blues, with architectural imagery displaying visual ambiguities as illustrated by the photograph opposite. This particular fresco now resides in the Musee Royal de Mariemont, Belgium.

The villa's main triclinium (h) was accessed off the north east corner of the peristyle. It was a rather square room decorated with a series of eight main scenes separated by columns. On the west wall, following the image of a decorative doorway, was the scene of an elderly man with a walking stick (in the left of picture opposite taken from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples).
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On the peristyle wall immediately west of the entrance to the triclinium was a fresco of a winged genius (pictured below). (For a re- construction of the north side of the peristyle see the image at the foot of the page).

The room (l) in the centre of the north side of the peristyle was an exedra. On its east wall was a fine second style fresco composed of garlands, masks and bulls heads (pictured opposite). The decorative bulls heads support garlands of laurel leaves intertwined with sheaths of wheat.
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A reconstruction of the cubiculum itself (shown right) can be viewed in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The second style decoration is complimented by a fine black and white mosaic floor.

The side walls are very similarly decorated. The central panel of each, framed by elaborately decorated red columns, contains a shrine consisting of a short entablature supported by two pillars (pictured below).
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The villa, excavated in 1900 (a contemporary photograph is shown below), derives its name from an inscription on a bronze vase found in room (f) on the south side of the peristyle. However, a second inscription, this time of one Lucius Herennius Florus, found on a seal and now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, could equally testify to the owner's name.

A rather grand villa rustica, the majority of the villa served as a residence for the owner while only a small part functioned as a farmhouse. The decoration of the villa, which dates to sometime around 40–30 BC, attests to the good taste of the original owner. The fact that this decoration was not replaced by another, more contemporary, decoration in the first century AD is a clear indication that there was already an awareness of the quality of the villa's frescoes. The surviving frescoes are extremely fine examples of the late second style, similar in many ways to those in the Villa of the Mysteries.
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The second scene (on the right of the above photograph) was of two women, one seated, one standing, with a shield between them. Various interpretations of this scene have linked the figures with the Antigonid dynasty in Macedonia, but the fresco may also simply be the personification of Syria and Macedonia.
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The north wall contained three scenes, on the left Dionysus and Ariadne, in the centre a scene of Venus with Amor and on the right the Three Graces.
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Continuing down the east wall were three frescoes which are now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The first of these was of a seated woman playing a kithara (pictured upper left). Behind her stands a young girl, perhaps her daughter.
The central scene was of a man and woman seated together on a gilded chair (pictured below). The figures may represent Achilles and his mother Thetis.
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The final scene on the east wall was of a woman bearing a shield (pictured left). On the front of the shield is a male figure with a white headband. The decoration on the shield may allude to a Hellenistic heir, while the woman is perhaps a priestess.
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Satyr masks and sacred baskets containing snakes hang down below, suspended by delicate red ribbons. Above the central zone was a frieze of green and yellow blocks topped by a stuccoed cornice.

To the west of the exedra is a cubiculum (m) with an ante room (n), probably the master bedroom of the villa, with the ante room providing a intimate space for receiving a few close friends away from the more public triclinium. On the west side of the ante room was the fresco pictured below which can be viewed in the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam.
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To either side of the shrine are views of the entrance to a fantastic country estate (pictured above). The entrance portal is an elaborate double door and the architecture beyond is vast and complex, a pastiche of balconies, towers and buildings.



Reconstruction of the Peristyle


Triclinium entrance on the north side of Peristyle  - copyright © 2011, James Stanton-Abbott, Stanton-Abbott Associates.




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