Description of the House (Reg VIII, Ins 4, 4, 49)
The fauces opens onto a rectangular atrium (b) (pictured right) with a central impluvium. The impluvium appears to
have been under repair, as it was stripped of its marble lining when the house was first excavated. Dyer described the walls of the atrium as consisting of red panels separated by vertical black bands like
pilasters together with lines and ornaments of various colours.
The House of Holconius Rufus is situated on the south side of the Via dell'Abbondanza just east of its junction with the Via dei Teatri. The house was first discovered in 1766 and excavated between 1855 and 1861.
The house is a prime example of the 'dig up and forget' philosophy that
has dogged the history of Pompeii's excavation. Through
carelessness and neglect the once bright and vivid frescoes that came to
light in the mid 1800s have all but vanished.
the wall to the left of the entrance (pictured below) he describes a recumbent Silenus,
crowned with ivy, pressing in his arms the little Bacchus, who in
alarm is endeavouring to escape from his embraces.
The northernmost cubicula (c and i) have
doorways in their northern walls giving access to the adjacent shops.
Both cubicula are in a rather poor state of repair.
The small cubiculum (d) (pictured opposite) in the centre of the east
side of the atrium was decorated in the fourth style on a white ground.
The white panels, according to Dyer, contained four small pictures,
two of which had been destroyed by looters shortly after the eruption.
Of the other two, one showed an aged Faun, holding in his hands a staff
and a vase; the other was of a young woman conversing with an African
The scene on the north wall depicts Perseus and Andromeda, that on the east wall Apollo and Daphne (pictured opposite) while the scene on the south wall portrays Hercules with Alcestis and Admetus.
The ala (g) on the west side of the atrium appears to have been partitioned off and, from
various metal and earthenware utensils found in it, to have been used as a kitchen, or more probably, as a storeroom.
Cubiculum (h) in the centre of the west side of the
atrium is decorated in the fourth style with white panels separated by
candelabra supporting small globes above a lower red frieze. In each of the eight white panels is a small picture featuring the head or bust
of a selection of Bacchic characters (pictured right and below).
Dyer describes the eight pictures as follows: 'On the
left is Bacchus crowned with ivy, his head covered with the mitra. Opposite him is the picture of Ariadne,
also crowned with ivy, clothed in a green chiton and a violet himation. Then follow Bacchic or Panic
figures, some conversing, some drinking together, some moving apparently
in the mazes of the dance. Paris, with the Phrygian cap and crook,
seems to preside over this voluptuous scene, and to listen to a little
Cupid seated on his shoulder'.
The white upper zone of the cubiculum is painted with red lines, between
which are depicted griffins in repose, baskets with thyrsi, branches of
herbs, and other objects. The
walls are surmounted by a cornice from
which springs the low vaulted ceiling. In the south west corner of the room is a
space hollowed in the wall to receive the foot of a bed or couch.
The panels were ornamented with architectural
designs and floating figures. In the central panel on each side was a
large mythological scene. The scene on the west wall is missing, but the
one on the east wall was of Leda and Tyndareus depicting her showing the king her nest of eggs.
stucco cornice ran round the wall above the central zone,
above which were scenes of nymphs, sphinxes and goats set on a white
ground. Between the atrium and the tablinum and the tablinum and the
peristyle are narrow marble thresholds.
The walls of the portico were painted in red and
black and decorated with architectural designs, candelabra, meanders, birds and
winged cupids. There were also fourteen small pictures framed in red,
eight of which were landscapes and seascapes with
fishermen, and the other six still lifes with fruit and other
consumables. On the west side of the peristyle a passageway leads to a
posticum (m) which opens onto the Via dei Teatri at door No. 49.
In the centre of the peristyle is a small garden
once filled with plants and flowers and watered by two fountains. One
of these, in the
middle of the peristyle, was square, having in its centre a round
table from which water gushed forth. The other fountain (l), which
faced the tablinum, was composed of a little marble staircase,
by the statue of a boy having in his right hand a vase from which the
water spurted, and under his left arm, a goose (pictured right). The
statue was slightly damaged when first found and is now no longer in
The triclinium was decorated in the fourth style with a
large mythological painting in the centre of each wall. The scene on the
east wall portrayed Ulysses among the daughters of Lycomedes on Skyros while the scene on the south wall was of Oreste in Tauride. The scene on the west wall depicted the Judgement of Paris.
description of the house by Thomas H. Dyer published in 1875 (Pompeii: Its History, Buildings And Antiquities) paints a very different picture of the house from that which can be seen today.
According to Dyer the walls of the fauces (a) (pictured left) were
decorated with black panels separated by green and yellow lines above a
lower red frieze. In the centre
of the black panels on one side were pictures of an ibis, a swan with
wings and a third scene which could not be made out. The other side
contained pictures of cupids, one with a cornucopia, one with a drum and
two with baskets of fruit. The upper zone on each side contained a
nymph set amongst fantastic architecture on a white ground.
Near to this scene, on a yellow
ground, was the head of a man, with two claws projecting from
his temples like horns, and a beard floating as if it was in the water.
It may have been a mask of Oceanus, who is represented on the coins of
Agrigentum in a somewhat similar manner. The atrium has rooms off all four sides and has a dark gray pavement variegated with rows of small pieces of
The ala (e) on the east side of the atrium
was decorated with
yellow central panels framed by red side panels above a lower black
frieze (pictured left). In the centre of each yellow panel is a
mythological scene. Unfortunately all of the paintings sustained
considerable damage during the eruption and only fragments remain.
In the middle of the south side of the atrium,
facing the entrance, is the tablinum (f) (shown left). The tablinum is
open to the atrium over its full width and has a wide portal on its
south side opening onto the north portico of the peristyle (j). As can
be seen in the photograph opposite the fresco decoration has all but
disappeared. Again, according to Dyer, the decoration of the walls (shown below from a painting c. 1910)
consisted of yellow panels separated by red, white and black bands above
a lower dark red frieze.
(pictured opposite) had a mixture of single, double and triple columns
supporting the inner margins of the roof. The
columns are composed of stuccoed brickwork, fluted in the upper part and
circular in cross section below and were originally painted white and
yellow as illustrated above.
The triclinium (n) off the north east corner of
the peristyle has deteriorated badly since first being excavated
(pictured left). According to Dyer the walls were decorated with black
panels ornamented with architectural motifs and floating figures. On the
east wall was a large mythological painting of Ariadne viewing the departure of Theseus while on the west wall the scene depicted Phrixus attempting to save the drowning Helle. The floor of the triclinium,
which is lower by a step than the peristyle, was paved in Opus
Signinum. The triclinium has a large window in its south wall overlooking the east portico of the peristyle.
Adjoining the triclinium is the kitchen (o). In the kitchen are several
large masonry structures including the hearth (in the left hand corner
of the picture opposite) a workbench, three basins and a latrine. There
is an arched niche in the east wall above one of the basins.
A second triclinium (p) opens off the south east corner of the
peristyle; the room can be seen between the columns in the old photograph (lower left) which shows that there was still a lot of remaining
fresco detail on the walls in or around 1900. Unfortunately, today there is
little or nothing left of this decoration as can be seen in the photograph of the triclinium
In the middle of the south side of the peristyle is a large exedra (q) which had a small impluvium in its centre.This
exedra was remarkable for its paintings (visible in the photograph
upper left) but now only faded and weathered plasterwork remains. On the east wall was a painting of a naked Hermaphrodite. In his
right hand was a little torch reversed while his left arm rested on the
shoulders of Silenus.
The scene in the centre of the south wall was of Narcissus with a javelin in his hand, leaning over a
rock admiring himself in the water, in which his image was reflected. But the
best picture, according to Dyer, was that on the west wall of Ariadne discovered
by Bacchus. He describes the scene: 'a youthful figure with wings,
stands at Ariadne's head, and seems to indicate that she is under his
influence. Meanwhile a little Faun lifts the veil that covers her, and
indicating surprise at her beauty, turns to Bacchus inviting him to
contemplate her charms. The deity himself,
crowned with ivy and berries, clothed in a short tunic and a pallium
stirred by the breeze, holds in his right hand the thyrsus, and lifts
his left in token of admiration'.
oecus (r) (pictured left) had a mythological scene on its west wall of two Nereids crossing the sea, one on
a sea-bull the other on a hippocampus (seahorse). A second painting, opposite the entrance was too damaged to describe. The
same wall has a square aperture opening onto a drain for
carrying off water from the adjoining houses. It seems also to have
been used as a storage space for lamps, several of which were found there.
Opening off the north west corner of the peristyle is an oecus (s). The
oecus was decorated in the fourth style with black and red panels above a
lower decorated red frieze (pictured opposite). The panels contained
vignettes of birds, animals and fruit. The oecus has a second doorway in
its south east corner which opens onto the andron connecting the west
side of the atrium with the peristyle. Two skeletons were found
in this room.
* Images ©Jackie and Bob Dunn are
reproduced by permission from their website at
(Su concessione del Ministero per
i Beni e le Attività Culturali:
Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di
Napoli e Pompei)