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House of the Vettii

Description of the House (Reg VI, Ins 15, 1)

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The exterior of the house is fairly plain. The main entrance (pictured top right) opens off the west side of the
Vico Dei Vettii just north of its junction with the Vicolo di Mercurio. Save for this entrance and a side door near the south east corner the exterior walls were unbroken except for small, square windows some of which were in low second storey rooms (an artist's reconstruction of what the house may have looked like is pictured right).

Like several other notable houses in Pompeii, the house was a casualty of bombing during the second World War. In late September 1943 allied bombs caused considerable damage to the property, particularly along the north side of the peristyle. The structural damage was repaired but some fourth style artwork was lost forever.

The vestibule (a), as in the House of the Diadumeni, was connected to the fauces (a') by a large double door and also by a small door to its right. T
he fauces (pictured below), is decorated in the fourth style with black panels framed in red above a lower black frieze. In the centre of the black panels are small monochrome panels containing a pair of deer (shown right), a cock fight , vases and a wallet with a herald's staff, attributes of Mercury who perhaps had a place among the Penates of the house.
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The most striking feature on entering the fauces is the fresco, to the right of the door, of Priapus, god of fertility and abundance, probably there to ward off the evil eye of those envious of the owners' wealth and circumstance (pictured opposite).



Cupids also appear riding and driving wagons. One stands on a crab, guiding the creature with reins and using a whip (pictured lower right); another is similarly mounted on a lobster.  Above these two decorative bands is a third zone with scenes of stylised architecture (pictured below).
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The atrium is without a tablinum; on its west side it opens directly onto the peristyle and garden. At the time of the eruption the southern ala (e) had been converted to a wardrobe. Previously it had been connected to room (g) to the south and had a large opening onto the peristyle like the ala (f) on the opposite side of the atrium. Both alae are decorated in the fourth style with yellow panels on a red ground above a lower black frieze. The upper zone consists of architectural motifs on a white ground.

The atrium has rooms on three sides with cubicula (c) on its north and east walls. The cubiculum (c') to the left of the entrance has an upper frieze of fish and marine life over alternating panels of white and yellow (pictured opposite).
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Among the seated and standing figures visible in the architectural framework of the upper zone is Zeus, sitting on his throne, Leda with her swan and Dana, holding out her robe to catch the golden rain.

Between oecus (d) and ala (e) a narrow passageway leads to the stables and a secondary opening onto the street (
the Vicolo di Mercurio). In this corridor is a stairway (pictured opposite) to the upper floor, which extended over the south east corner of the house. Along the front of the house there were also low apartments over the rooms either side of the fauces and those ranged round the small atrium (n).

A doorway in the northeast corner of the atrium leads to the second, smaller atrium (n) mentioned above. This court (pictured below) has a central impluvium constructed of tufa. In the south east corner a stairway led to the upper floor. The walls of the atrium are plainly decorated with a white central zone above a lower pink frieze or socle.

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Room (p) on the north side of the kitchen is a bit of an oddity, containing crudely painted scenes of an explicit nature. Entered through a narrow doorway at the east end of its south wall, the decoration is in the fourth style on a white ground with panels divided by red lines ornamented with decorative borders. The decoration (pictured lower right) was painted on a white ground probably to increase the amount of light in the room since the only source of light was the narrow entrance doorway.

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The walls of the peristyle are decorated with architectural motifs on a light ground separating black panels framed in red above a lower black frieze.

The central garden (i) (pictured below) contained statuary, columns, fountains and tables many of which have been restored to their original positions set in a recreation of the original garden based on traces left by plant roots.
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The simple, restful nature of the scheme is in stark contrast with the subject matter of the large mythological pictures placed in the middle of each of the three walls. These scenes are of Hercules strangling the serpents (pictured upper right), Pentheus being torn to Pieces by the Bacchants (in the centre of the picture above) and The torture of Dirce (pictured opposite). The upper zone consists of panels, garlands, and ornamental bands on a yellow ground.
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The scene on the left (north) wall is of Daedalus showing Pasiphe the Wooden Cow (pictured lower right). The upper zone consists of an elaborate architectural façade with seated figures.


In the centre of the north side of the peristyle (pictured above) is the triclinium (k), often referred to as the Room of the Cupids. The room (pictured opposite and below) is decorated with red panels of The Seasons, perspective architecture, ornamental elements which turn into delicate figurines, small pictures of naval battles set under theatrical masks and images of Dionysiac cult objects.
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To the east of the triclinium is a small suite of rooms (l) set around their own miniature peristyle.
The north, east and south walls of the peristyle were decorated in the fourth style, consisting of red panels with ornamental borders separated by architectural openings above a lower red decorative frieze. The west wall had been coated with a layer of coarse pink plaster. Traditionally referred to as a gynaeceum (an area reserved for women), it is now thought that the peristyle and the rooms off its east side are more likely to have comprised the 'master' bedroom suite.
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The presence of such suites of rooms next to large reception rooms may well give us an insight into Roman society whereby the triclinium was the grand place of reception, while the adjoining suite of rooms would provide a more intimate area for a few close friends. The decoration in this area is again in the fourth style, and contains frescoes of Hercules recognising Achilles and Hercules surprising Augeas.

This house, excavated in 1894-95, derives its name from two bronze seals found near a strongbox in the atrium. The seals bore the names of two freedmen brothers, Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva.
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The fauces opens onto the atrium (b) which has a marble lined impluvium in its centre. The atrium had safes on either side sheathed with iron, set on masonry bases. The fourth style decoration of the atrium (pictured left and below) consists of a lower frieze in yellow with red scenic panels featuring children busied with vessels of all kinds, apparently intended for sacrifice. Above this is a black band with various scenes depicting cupids, the most interesting of which represents a sacrifice to Fortuna.

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The large white panels contain mythological scenes including Leander swimming to her Hero and Ariadne being abandoned by Theseus (pictured opposite).

In the south east corner of the atrium is an oecus (d) which is decorated in the fourth style on a white ground with architectural motifs and mythological detail (pictured lower left). The central panels on each wall contain a mythological scene; on the north wall is a painting of Cyparissus, the youth beloved of Apollo, with his wounded deer on the ground near him while on the south wall the scene depicts a wrestling match between Pan and Eros (pictured below). The scenes on the east and west walls have been lost.

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The atrium has a large temple style lararium (pictured lower left) on its west wall painted with the Genius of the 'pater familia' shown standing between two Lares, with the Agathodemone (the serpent protector of the hearth) at their feet. The atrium leads to the domestic area and kitchen (o).

The kitchen has a large masonry hearth set along its south wall.
Two iron tripods and an iron grill were found on the hearth. The walls of the room were coated with a layer of coarse plaster. A fountain statue of Priapus, originally from the peristyle, was found standing in one corner (pictured below).


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The three central pictures, one of which is shown upper left, are painted with a simple palette of red and yellow ochre.
Beam sockets in the central zone possibly indicate the floor of an upper mezzanine room.

The main atrium of the house opens directly onto the peristyle (h) (pictured left) to the west.
The columns of the peristyle are white with ornate capitals moulded in stucco and painted in a variety of colours. Part of the entablature also remains; the architrave is ornamented with an acanthus arabesque in white stucco relief on a yellow ground.
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To the south of the atrium is an oecus (g) which is open to the peristyle over virtually its full width. The room is decorated in the third style with large yellow panels framed by architectural motifs above a lower dark red decorated frieze (pictured lower left).
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The exedra (m) off the north east corner of the peristyle is also richly decorated in the third style (pictured left). The decoration is perhaps more harmonious with the division of the wall space, the relation of the three main pictures to the decorative design and the distribution of ornamentation.

The central panels of each wall contain a large mythological scene. The picture on the right (south) wall is of Bacchus watching over the sleeping Ariadne (pictured below) while the scene on the rear (east ) wall is of The Punishment of Ixion (pictured opposie).
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Framing the panels is a black frieze decorated with imaginary architecture and cupids acting out the various professions.

A narrow doorway in the south end of the west wall provided access to room (j). The triclinium has a white mosaic floor decorated with a black border and a black meander pattern at the threshold.
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