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Villa Imperiale

Description of the Villa

The Villa Imperiale, situated on the south side of the Via Marina as it approaches the Marina Gate (pictured below), was initially excavated by Amedeo Maiuri in 1947. The villa was built during the last decade of the first century BC, and comprised one of the so-called hanging houses, constructed illegally on public ground on the slopes to the south and west of the city walls.
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The decoration of the rear wall of the ambulatory is in the fourth style (pictured opposite) with large black panels framed with delicate borders above a lower black frieze. The upper zone contains figures set in fantastic architecture on a white ground. At the southern end of the ambulatory is the entrance to the villa (pictured below).
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The central panel on each wall contains a large mythological scene, set in a spectacular architectural frame. The scene on the north wall (pictured right) depicts the Flight of Theseus from Naxos. Much of the picture has been lost, but on the right hand side Theseus can be seen being helped aboard ship by a helmeted warrior.
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The scene on the east wall depicts Theseus being honoured by the Athenians after defeating the Minotaur (pictured right). Although badly damaged, the scene clearly shows a youth kissing the hand of Theseus while the slain minotaur lies at his feet. The distant Athens is depicted by a green Athena statue in the background.

The decoration of the central zone is capped with a broad band of decorative features on a white ground. Standing atop the dividing pillars of the central zone are a series of young girls decorated with flowers and bearing garlands (pictured right). Between these figures are six small scenes each featuring a poet or poetess. A scene from the north wall shows a bearded poet reading to a seated woman (possibly a Muse) while a servant with a staff and mask looks on (pictured below).
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The reception room originally had a multi-coloured marble floor in opus sectile, but this appears to have been removed prior to the eruption.

Opening off the south side of the vestibule is a small cubiculum (d). The room is lit by windows on its west and south walls. On the eastern side of the cubiculum is a raised bed recess. The room is decorated in the third style with fantastic architecture and architectural motifs with baldachins and candelabras between which garlands are strung. Like the main reception room, the cubiculum appears to have been stripped of its mosaic flooring prior to the eruption.
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Following the earthquake of AD62 the villa was partly redecorated in the fourth style. The villa was subsequently acquired on behalf of the state on the order of the Imperial Prefect, Titus Suedius Clemens. At the same time the terrace of the Temple of Venus sited above was extended, requiring the demolition of the upper floor of the villa.

The entry at the Marina Gate gives access to a long porticoed ambulatory (a) (pictured left) which leads to the villa's main entrance.
The ambulatory is open on one side overlooking a gardened area.
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Facing the entrance is a vestibule (b) which opens onto a large reception room (c).
The ceilings of the vestibule and reception room were decorated with stucco caskets and paintings in the fourth style on a black ground.
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The reception room (c) is decorated in the third style (pictured left). The decoration consists of large red panels separated by thin pillars set over a band of bacchanalian scenes, winged Eroses and Psyches all above a lower decorative purple frieze.
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The scene on the south wall illustrates the Death of Icarus (pictured opposite). The scene shows Daedalus with outstretched wings flying over the shoreline where Icarus's lifeless body lies, watched over by a nymph.
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To the south of the main reception room is the triclinium (e), which is decorated in the fourth style with large red panels with plain, narrow borders on a yellow ground above a lower black frieze. In the centre of each wall is a landscape panel (pictured left).

A doorway in the south east corner of the
triclinium opens onto a peristyle (f) with a central garden (g). The walls of the peristyle have red panels above a lower black frieze.


Detail from the 'Death of Icarus'



* Images ©Jackie and Bob Dunn are reproduced by permission from their website at www.pompeiiinpictures.com
(Su concessione del Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali: Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei)




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