Lasers removed stains on a fresco in Pompeii’s House of the Ceii
One of Pompeii’s most action-packed frescoes has regained some of its colours after lasers removed centuries-old stains and restorers touched up worn paint.
Featuring a lion chasing a bull, wild boar bearing down on deer and a leopard pouncing on sheep, the large fresco adorned the garden wall of the Pompeiian magistrate Lucius Ceius Secundus. Vegetation runs along the foot of the fresco, while the owner’s passion for Egypt is revealed by images on a sidewall of sacred Egyptian buildings and African pygmies hunting hippopotamuses and crocodiles.
The artwork — of hunting scenes — was painted in the so-called ‘Third’ or ‘Ornate’ Pompeii style, which was popular around 20–10 BC and featured vibrant colours.
In 79 AD, however, the house and the rest of the Pompeii was submerged beneath pyroclastic flows of searing gas and volcanic matter from the eruption of Vesuvius. Poor maintenance since the house was dug up in 1913–14 saw the hunting fresco and others deteriorate, particularly at the bottom, which is more vulnerable to humidity.
The main section of the fresco depicts a lion pursuing a bull, a leopard pouncing on sheep and a wild boar charging towards some deer. Frescos commonly adorned the perimeter walls of Pompeiian gardens and were intended to evoke an atmosphere — often one of tranquillity — while also creating the illusion that the area was larger than in reality, much as we use mirrors today.
‘What makes this fresco so special is that it is complete — something which is rare for such a large fresco at Pompeii,’ site director Massimo Osanna told The Times.
Alongside the haunting imagery of the now restored fresco, with its wild animals, the sidewalls of the garden featured Egyptian-themed landscapes, with beasts of the Nile delta-like crocodiles and hippopotamuses hunted by African pygmies and a ship shown transporting amphorae.
Experts believe the owner of the townhouse, or ‘domus’, had a connection or fascination with Egypt and potentially also the cult of Isis, that of the wife of the Egyptian god of the afterlife, which was popular in Pompeii in its final years.
In fact, the residence has been associated with one Lucius Ceius Secundus, a magistrate — based on an electoral inscription found on the building’s exterior — and it is after him that it takes its name, ‘Casa dei Ceii’.
The property, which stood for some two centuries before the eruption, is one of the rare examples of a Domus in the somewhat severe style of the late Samnite period of the second century BC.
The house’s front façade sports an imitation ‘opus quadratum’ (cut stone block) design in white stucco and a high entranceway set between two rectangular pilasters capped with cube-shaped capitals.
Casa dei Ceii’s footprint covered some 3,100 square feet (288 sq. m) and contained an unusual tetrastyle (four-pillared) atrium and a rainwater-collecting impluvium basin in a Grecian style, one rare for Pompeii, lined with cut amphora fragments.
Other rooms found inside the property included a triclinium, where lunch would have been taken, two storage rooms, a tablinum which the master of the house would have used as an office and reception room and a kitchen with a latrine.
An upper floor, which partially collapsed during the eruption, would have been used by the household servants and appeared to be in the process of being renovated or constructed at the time of the catastrophe.
The garden on whose back wall was adorned by the hunting fresco, meanwhile, featured a canal and two fountains, one of a nymph and the other a sphynx.
During the excavation of the townhouse, archaeologists found the skeleton of a turtle preserved in the garden. The recent restoration work saw the paint film of much of the fresco — particularly a section featuring botanical decoration — carefully cleaned with a special laser.
Experts also carefully retouched the paint in areas of the fresco that had been abraded over time, protective measures have also been taken to help prevent the future infiltration of rainwater that could damage the artwork.