36 Fantastic Paintings from Pompeii

The Romans were making amazing paintings 2,000 years ago.

Many of them survive in Pompeii and the surrounding areas.

Here are the best paintings from Pompeii:

The Romans loved their gods. So many of the paintings found in Pompeii show gods and mythical scenes.

Pan and Hermaphroditus. The two gods were siblings. From the House of the Dioscuri. (Photo: TyB/CCBY2.0)
A painting. Everything is very white, painted with pastels. On the left a very white woman sits on a chair on a pedestal. She is attended by two other white women. Below them, on the right, there is a tanned man who is reclined or has fallen down. The three women look at him.
The Queen Omphale of Lydia (left) watches Hercules who is drunk (right). Omphale bought Hercules as a slave, later on, she married him. From the House of the Prince of Montenegro. (Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia/Public domain)
A baby plays two flutes next to a man's ear.
Baby Cupid plays the flute near Hercules’ ear. Detail of another painting that shows Hercules and Omphale. From the House of Marcus Lucretius. (Photo: Carlo Raso/Flickr/Public domain)

These frescoes originally decorated the houses of the rich people that vacationed in Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, and other coastal towns of Italy.

But when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, these towns were covered with ashes and debris. They remained interred for centuries.

Now the archaeologists are excavating them. And so the paintings don’t get damaged, they have been removed from the houses and taken to the nearby Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy.

Pheitos (Persuasion) brings baby Eros to his mother Venus (right). House of Punished Love. (Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Public domain)

Modern viewers are sometimes puzzled about the skin tones in Roman paintings. But it is just an artistic convention. Usually, men were painted with dark skin while women were painted with white.

That is because Roman men were supposed to be outdoors, under the strong Italian sun, either playing sports or taking part in military campaigns. While the women, at least the virtuous ones, were supposed to stay indoors. So a deep tan was considered manly, while white skin was feminine.

Usually, children, slaves, and some fantastical beings were also represented with white skin.

This painting looks like something El Greco could have done in the 17th century, but was made in c. AD 60. ‘The wedding of Zephyr and Flora.’ House of Zephyr and Flora. (Photo: Stefano Bolognini/Public domain)

The following paintings include heroes and fantastical beings like genies and satyrs.

Most of the scenes represent Greek myths. You can find Theseus -who killed the Minotaur-, and also the heroes of the Troyan war, like Achilles and Aeneas.

Looks like a teenage boy but has odd, pointy ears, strange red hair, and rather big eyes. He is very white and has green wings.
A winged genius. From the House of Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale, now at the Museum Saint-Raymond, Toulouse, France. (Photo: Carole Raddato/Flickr/(CCBYSA2.0)
There are two people in this painting. A veiled, shy woman is on the right. She seems to be trying to move forward, but she is blocked by very tanned man. He is standing and his naked back is towards the viewer. He has dark, short hair.
Briseis (the woman) with Patroclus. Detail of the painting ‘Achilles and Briseis.’ House of the Tragic Poet. (Photo: Sailko/Wikimedia/Public domain)

When walking through Pompeii the visitors are usually surprised by the number of erotic paintings splattered around.

The walls of the local brothels are certainly covered with erotic scenes. But these paintings are also found in homes, both in the private rooms and in the social areas. And they are quite explicit. The Kamasutra has nothing on them.

The following frescoes are some of the tamest ones. We don’t want to make you blush.

(Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Public domain)
An indoor scene. Inside a bedroom. A couple sits on their bed close to each other. He is undressed. There are three slaves in the background carrying on their duties.
(Photo: Brian J. Geiger/CCBY2.0)
A kissing couple. They are both naked.
Painting from Herculaneum. (Photo: Wikimedia/Public domain)

But the Romans could think about other things aside from sex. To prove it, here are still lifes, plus pictures of animals and architecture.

A rabbit sniffing fruits.
A rabbit sniffing figs. (Photo: Carole Raddato/Flickr/CCBYSA2.0)
A very well-painted yellow bird. It stands in a garden, on top of a tree branch.
House of the Golden Bracelet. (Photo: Carlo Raso/Flickr/Public domain)
Still life. A very realistic glass bowl of fruits on the left, and some bread and other foods on the right.
House of Julia Felix. (Photo: Wikimedia/Public domain)
This painting shows an amazing use of perspective. House of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, US. (Photo: Met Museum/Public domain)
(Photo: Met Museum/CCBYSA4.0)

The buildings and urban spaces are painted with great proficiency. The ancient artists even used perspective. That is, the buildings and objects that are in the background look smaller than the ones in the foreground, which makes the landscape look realistic.

This level of realism was lost during the Middle Ages. It would take 1500 years for the Europeans to achieve it again.

A wall of the famous and intriguing House of the Mysteries. (Photo: Sailko/CCBYSA4.0)

Here are Italian women going about their day:

A woman looks at the viewer. Her brown-reddish hair is carefully arranged in curls. She has big brown eyes. She holds a pen and a tablet.
A close-up of an Italian woman. The stylus (like a pen) and the tablet are letting you know that she knows how to write and that she is a bit of -or quite the- intellectual. (Photo: Carole Raddato/Flickr/CCBYSA2.0)
A girl sits while playing with her long, straight, reddish hair. She has light eyes and pale skin. Behind her is another woman who is helping her.
This other Italian lady is taking care of her hair with the help of her slave. House of the Mysteries. (Photo: Carole Raddato/Flickr/CCBYSA2.0)
House of the Golden Bracelet. (Photo: Carlo Raso/Public domain)

And to finish, a sacrificial scene, which was a common occurrence in the Roman Word.

The Romans sacrificed in the holy days, as they began an enterprise, after finishing an enterprise, before traveling, etc., etc.

The man is about to make a sacrifice in honor of the goddess Diana. Thus the goddess herself appears on the left with one of her deers. House of the Vetii. (Photo: Wikimedia/Public domain)

Which was your favorite painting from Pompeii?

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