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    Decorative Hierarchies: Waei. Painting Essay

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    The identification of possible hierarchies in wall painting is rather more speculative, as wall plaster tends to survive in poor condition, if at all. The houses on Delos were built in stone, and the walls are often preserved to a considerable height with the plaster still attached. However, the excavators’ reconstructions above frieze level usually rely to an unknown extent on comparisons with Campanian First Style paintings; but as there are significant differences between the Masonry Style and the First Style in the treatment of the lower part of the wall, it is by no means certain that the upper zones were similar. The picture is further complicated by fallen fragments of paintings from upstairs rooms. Regional differences even within the Masonry Style mean that conclusions based on the Delian materia) may not be directly applicable to other sites. With these provisos in mind. 1 would suggest the follow ing broad framework for reading the wall decoration of the Delian houses.K In the Masonry Style the wall is divided into rectangular panels, imitating either monumental ashlar masonry, or luxurious panelling in coloured stone veneers; in either case, the intention is presumably to allude to the prestigious interiors of public buildings.9 The standard scheme on Delos (FIG. 5) consists of a low continuous plinth, 20-40 cm high, above which is a row of tall orthostats, 80 120 cm high, surmounted by a frieze; above the frieze are several courses of blocks, each prrhaps 40-50 cm high, and crowning the whole is a cornice, with a fiat zone above.

    In its most basic form, this scheme is marked out 011 a flat, while plaster surface by incised or painted lines, occasionally with the frieze picked out in red paint. However, it could be elaborated in several ways to express distinctions between rooms and areas of the house. These distinctions seem to depend on a combination of four factors: the extent of relief moulding; the number of frieze bands; the colours and motifs used; and the addition of monumental architectural forms in stucco relief. No doubt, as in the case of mosaics, the distinction was ultimately one of cost. Firstly, relief decoration might  applied to the whole wall, or only part of it. If only one zone was moulded in relief, it was usually the frieze; if two, the frieze and the orthostats, which acquired bevelled edges round the blocks; in more elaborate examples the isodomic courses above the frieze might receive the same treatment. The cornice also usually projects beyond the rest of the wall, but the zone above is always left flat, as is the plinth. Secondly, extra bands could be added to the frieze, up to a maximum of four (FIG. 6).

    In its simplest and commonest form, the frieze consists of a single continuous band. 15 30 cm high; in relief schemes it projects from the wall, with a moulding at top and bottom (A); the upper moulding is usually a quarter-round, and the lower an ovolo or sloping fillet. Sometimes the main band is a string-course of bevelied-edge blocks (C) instead of a continuous strip. I. p to three further bands may be added: the second is most frequently a narrower continuous band below the main band and about half its width (B), or sometimes a string-course of narrow bcvclled-edge blocks (C), perhaps with a kymation moulding at top and bottom; some schemes have both of these (as in FIG. 6), and very occasionally a fourth band is added at top or bottom, usually another continuous strip. The mouldings at the transitions between the bands are painted with standard motifs derived from stone architecture: the quarter-round at the top is usually decorated with a three-strand or double guilloche, or occasionally interlocking scales, the lower moulding with an egg and dart, and the kymatia framing a string-course with a leaf and dart motif; a row of dentils may mark the transition from frieze to orthostats.

    Thirdly, extra colours and decorative motifs could be introduced in addition to the basic white. The range of colours in the Delian paintings is limited: white is by far the commonest, followed by red, black, yellow, and, in much smaller quantities, green and blue. It is probably reasonable to assume that this reflects the relative c ost of the pigments, especially as the rarer  colours tend to occur most often in the prestigious (and relatively narrow’ frieze zone.10 Certain colours seem to have been considered especially suitable for particular zones of the wall. The plinth is most frequently red. The orthostats arc often black, sometimes with coloured edges, but it is unusual to find large expanses of black above this zone. The continuous frieze or the blocks, of a string-course arc often red, sometimes yellow, and occasionally green or alternately green and yellow; green is very rarely found in any other zone. The courses of blocks above the frieze are usually white or red, occasionally yellow, and sometimes have contrasting coloured edges. The cornice is white, and the zone above light blue; blue is otherwise found only in niches and for the background in decorated friezes. As a more elaborate alternative to solid blocks of colour, some parts of the w-all may be painted in imitation of veined or flecked marble, which must have added an exotic and luxurious air. It was no doubt more labour-intensive and thus more expensive, and accordingly it tends to appear most often in the frieze zone, where only a relatively small area needed to be covered; it is unusual, and presumably particularly luxurious, for the large expanse of the orthostats to k marbled, and only a very few decorations have more than one zone of marbling; it rarely appears higher than the frieze.

    The frieze, being roughly at eye level, is the focus of the decoration, and is the only zone whic h offers scope for any kind of decoration beyond the imitation of stonework. It is therefore the most significant area in which distinctions of status could he expressed. Simple monochrome hands and alternating coloured panels are the most common frieze decorations, followed by imitation marbling. Where there is a narrow secondary hand (B), it is almost invariably decorated with a painted swastika meander and boxes, often shown in perspective. Vegetal and figured decoration is much more unusual: the most common type is a garland of leaves and fruit entwined with coloured ribbons: less common are imaginary plant scrolls, which may he peopled with tiny Erotcs. Friezes of figures are rare, and most consist of repetitive motifs, such as Nikai driving chariots: a very- few examples depict battles or a series of scenes from mythology or drama. I would suggest that this order reflects the relative prestige of the motifs. Their rarity seems to coincide with their complexity and degree of indiv idualization: the more stereotyped friezes, of garlands, plants or repeated figures, are commoner than those consisting of individual scenes, which must have required more planning and skill, and were presumably more expensive. A few exceptionally lavish decorations had both a figured and a floral band. Finally, the prestige of a room could lie enhanced by the addition of architectural details in stucco relief. These are rare, and are usually confined to the upper part of the walls, probably for practical reasons, as they’ must have been rather fragile.

    The most common elaboration was to replace the cornice moulding with a full entablature, usually Doric; the metopes might be decorated with rosettes or heads in relief, or occasionally painted with figures. In a few cases, the entablature was supported hv stucco pilasters resting on a small cornice about two- thirds of the way up the wall (FIG. 15). There might also be niches in the walls, framed by small stucco columns and topped by an entablature or pediment. Such decoration must have been prized not only because of the obvious expense of creating it, hut also because it evoked prestigious associations with monumental public architecture. These four elements could be varied in an infinite numlier of combinations, allowing the decoration of each room to be precisely adapted to its function or relative importance. Wall painting had become much more elaborate since the Classical period: at Olynthos, for example, most of the wall plaster is flat and monochrome, with divisions indicated in paint or incision: relief decoration is very unusual, and only one house yielded a decorated frieze. By the second century, the flat decoration which was usual at Olynthos was found only in rooms of secondary importance; there had clearly been a process of inflation at work, which had the effect of widening the range of available possibilities, and hence the range of distinctions that could Ik expressed in the decoration.

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