Laestrygonians, A House on the Esquiline Hill, Rome, 50-40 BCE
approximately 47 " high
This Roman fresco from the first century BCE is in what's called the Second Style. While the First Style created the illusion of an elegant marble wall, the Second Style was intended to create the illusion of a three-dimensional world and extend the space beyond the confines of the room. The Garden Fresco at the Villa of Livia is a prime example of the style. This painting from a house on the Esquiline Hill, one of Rome's famed seven hills, is from a series depicting the travels of Odysseus. Using painted columns to separate the scenes, the frescoes illustrate some episodes from Homer's Odyssey with great accuracy and detail. The Laestrygonians, appearing in Book X of the Odyssey, were a race of cannibals who hurled rocks at Odysseus's fleet, destroying all but one of their ships and killing and eating several of his crew. Odysseus's own ship was spared by hiding in a cove. This fresco shows the Laestrygonians mostly with their backs to the viewer, currently hurling their stones to destroy the ships. I love to see the way ancient painters used space and color. This anonymous painter imported a great deal of drama and action into this piece, conveying the turmoil of the scene and the chaos besieging the fleet. While it is difficult, or impossible, to know how the fresco looked two thousand years ago, the water remains a rich blue color, and the shading of the rocks, ships, and figures is clear. Even now we can still get a sense of motion in the water and sky. The figures themselves are skillfully posed to show their movement and activity.