The House of the Deer in Herculaneum

The House of the Deer in Herculaneum

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Visiting Herculaneum: Pompeii’s Overlooked Neighbor

Herculaneum (Ercolano in Italian) is decidedly less famous than nearby Pompeii, although it makes for an equally interesting (some would say even more interesting) visit from the tourist’s perspective. This Roman town, significantly smaller than Pompeii, was once a seaside resort and trading port town with quite wealthy inhabitants.

>> For a more complete historic picture, be sure to read this Herculaneum history

What makes it arguably more interesting to visit today is its smaller size (easier to see the whole thing in a few hours), and its incredibly well-preserved ruins (the town’s destruction was caused by different volcanic debris than Pompeii, and Herculaneum was better preserved). In fact, Herculaneum remains less fully excavated than Pompeii. Pompeii was an easier site to work on for archaeologists when the sites were discovered in the early 1700s, so much of Herculaneum is still being uncovered today.

One of the treasures of Herculaneum is its library at the Villa of the Papyri, which, because of the way the ash and mud from Mount Vesuvius hit the town, is the only library of the time to survive. The scrolls which once filled the library’s shelves are now stores in the National Library in Naples. The vast majority of them are, sadly, quite damaged – but some have been unrolled and scanned.

What to See at Herculaneum

At Herculaneum, follow the path towards the Audio Guide Kiosk and turn left into a long tunnel that takes you to what was once the town beach, keeping in mind that Herculaneum was buried under nearly 60 feet of boiling mud. From this vantage point you can clearly appreciate the extent to which the town was annihilated.

In the 1980s hundreds of bodies were uncovered between the arches tucked into the town walls (boat storage areas) and the wall of volcanic stone the entrance tunnel buries through. It is believed that people fleeing the city huddled here in the hopes the arches would provide protection from the volcano.

Don’t miss the Roman baths. Under the steps you took to descend into the baths notice original wood charred during the disaster.

The House of Deer (Casa dei Cervi) is named for the statues of deer being attacked by dogs in the courtyard. The original statues are now housed in the Archaeological Museum in Naples.

Additional Herculaneum Tips

Walking shoes, or those with low heels, are highly recommended. In addition, in warmer weather you may want to bring your own bottle of water. For those with much younger children I advise a backpack style carrier if your stroller is not heavy duty and up to the ancient Roman roads. Allow 2-3 hours to tour the site.

Special Events

Herculaneum Visitor Information

November-March, every day from 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission 3.30 p.m.)
April-October, every day from 8.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. (last admission 6 p.m.)
>> Herculaneum is Closed: 1st January, 1st May, 25th December

Single ticket: &euro11, valid for 1 day
Access to 5 sites (Herculaneum, Pompeii, Oplontis, Stabiae, Boscoreale): &euro20, valid for 3 days
>> ArteCard holders enter for free or with a 50% discount, depending on the type of card purchased. Visit the ArteCard website for more details.

How to Get to Herculaneum

By Train:
Circumvesuviana Napoli-Sorrento or Napoli-Poggiomarino or Napoli-Torre Annunziata (Stop Ercolano)

By Car:
Autostrada A3 Napoli-Salerno (exit Ercolano)

The villa is recognised today as one of the most important buildings preserved by the volcanic eruption

Treasures from the extraordinary Villa dei Papiri or Villa of the Papyri have now gone on display at the Getty Villa in Malibu, Los Angeles. Commissioned by the oil billionaire J Paul Getty at the beginning of the 1970s, the museum was modelled on the ground plan of the ancient villa itself. For the first time, therefore, it is possible to view the contents of the house in a setting inspired by their original surroundings.

The Villa of the Papyri, which is thought to have been built between about 40 and 20BC, occupied more than 20,000 sq m (220,000 sq ft) and overlooked the sea. It had a large pool, gardens, and a sprawling ‘peristyle’ or covered walkway filled with sculptures, including two exquisite bronze athletes captured as if on the starting line of a race. Most intriguing of all was the library which, though modest by comparison with the other rooms, contained over 1000 papyrus scrolls.

A digital reconstruction of the Villa dei Papiri (Credit: Museo Archeologico Virtuale di Ercolano)

While the villa is recognised today as one of the most important buildings to have been preserved by the volcanic eruption, its first excavators, some of whom were convicts conscripted for the task, were not always aware of the significance of what they were seeing. The scrolls had been carbonised by the pyroclastic flows to such an extent that they resembled tree bark. They were so blackened, in fact, that several were used as fuel in the mistaken belief that they were charcoal or logs. It was only when someone dropped one to expose the writing inside that they realised what they had found.

While many skeletons have been recovered from Herculaneum’s boat stores, not a single body has been found in the Villa of the Papyri, which is still partially unexcavated. Perhaps its residents escaped in time. Although the identity of its final owner is not known, the villa is thought to have belonged to the father-in-law of Julius Caesar, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, in the century before the eruption.

Living the good life

A successful senator, Piso had had the misfortune to fall foul of Cicero, whom he failed to protect from being sent into exile. He consequently went down in history as the ineloquent, self-congratulating drunk with ‘bristly cheeks’ and ‘rotten teeth’ that Cicero caricatured. Piso served as a consul or top magistrate of Rome, and also as governor of Macedonia but, according to Cicero, was so grasping that he “left not a single image or picture or adornment in any public or religious place”.

The villa is thought to have belonged to the father-in-law of Julius Caesar, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus (Credit: Getty Museum)

Piso’s home, which might have passed down to his son – and perhaps then to a grandson – with many of his possessions still in place, was certainly rich in artworks. Among the dozens of bronzes and marbles discovered in the Villa of the Papyri are some of the most celebrated pieces from the Roman world. On the lower terrace was a beautiful portrait bust of an Amazon, and in the peristyle (porch), among many other sculptures, were the Drunken Satyr and a representation of the sylvan god Pan having sex with a goat. The last of these was considered so risqué in the 18th Century that one had to apply to view it in private.

Piso had a particular interest in Greek Epicurean philosophy. Displayed in his villa was a bronze sculpture of a jumping pig in reference to the fact that the Epicureans were dubbed ‘pigs’ by non-Epicureans. Hundreds of years earlier, Epicurus had taught his followers to aspire to live comfortable lives free from pain and fear. The poet Horace proudly pronounced himself “a well-fed and well-bred radiant pig from the sty of Epicurus”. The inhabitants of the Villa of the Papyri appear similarly to have lived the good life.

Piso was the patron of an Epicurean philosopher and poet named Philodemus, who originally came from Gadara, in modern Jordan. The majority of the scrolls found in the library of the Villa of the Papyri were written in Greek, and contained works of Epicurean philosophy, many of them by Philodemus himself.

Piso’s home was rich in artworks – including a sculpture of a Drunken Satyr and a representation of the god Pan having sex with a goat (Credit: Getty Museum)

“This seems to have been the professional library of Philodemus,” Kenneth Lapatin, curator in the Department of Antiquities at the Getty Villa, tells BBC Culture. “It is a very specialised philosophical library.”

“It gives us insight into the Romans’ views of their Greek predecessors. It is fascinating that the first echelons of Roman power would be interested in what seems to us today to be obscure.”

Other texts found in the villa’s library include several books of Epicurus’s On Nature, the writings of a Stoic philosopher named Chrysippus, and parts of the De Rerum Natura, an Epicurean poem by the Latin writer Lucretius. Around half the scrolls found, however, are still sealed. Given that Philodemus knew both Horace and Virgil, it is possible that more literary works are still waiting to be unravelled. The challenge is how to do so without destroying them in the process.

Lesser-known Roman sites to visit in Rome

The 16th-century underground ruins of Palazzo Valentini

If you follow the steps leading down beneath the Palazzo Valentini, a Renaissance structure housing government offices that’s just north of the Forum, you’ll come to a series of underground chambers.

Standing on glass floors in each room, you look down onto the excavated remains of a Roman aristocrat’s house. Only discovered in 2005 when a parking lot was being built, the house’s rooms have been virtually reconstructed using sound and lighting.

You enter each room in succession as an audio commentary in English plays. At first, you’re in darkness, unable to see your surroundings. Then, as the audio guide explains what the room originally contained or was used for, light projections illuminate different features.

Half-ruined mosaics are ‘finished off’ using projections, so you can immediately see how richly this home was decorated. In another room, the ruins of a well and irrigation system are reanimated with a projection of running water.

Side showrooms display all the objects found at the site, such as pottery and helmets, but many items have been left in the rooms where they were found.

All in all, it’s a quirky, well executed and vivid way of exploring a more intimate, domestic Roman site.

See a secret Roman temple at San Clemente Basilica

The 12th-century San Clemente Basilica, Rome

This church demonstrates brilliantly how modern-day Rome has gradually been built over Roman foundations. San Clemente Basilica, located a few streets away from the Colosseum, dates from the 12th century and overlays an earlier 4th century church. Walking through the sacristy leads to the even older remains of a Roman-era temple to Mithras.

It’s a stark, low-ceilinged stone room. Listen carefully, and you might be able to hear the sound of running water from a Roman-built aqueduct nearby. In the middle of the room, there’s a simple altar carved with a relief of the Persian-derived god Mithras slaying a bull.

The room itself wasn’t so much a temple as a place for ritual banquets. Mithraism was a mysterious, male-only cult that made use of initiation rites and it had an underground following in the Roman world. Today, little is known about it. Worshippers typically gathered in caves or underground chambers, out of public sight. It’s somehow fitting, then, that even in modern times this temple remains hidden from view.

Visit the ancient Roman Baths of Caracalla on a Vespa tour

The 2nd-century Baths of Caracalla, the second largest in Rome

A sprawling complex of crumbling red-brick towers and archways in southwest Rome, you’ll need to use your imagination to get a feel for what these thermae (public baths) originally looked like. A good guide will be able to explain all the different elements used in the Roman bathing ritual, from the circular, humid calidarium (hot steam room) to the natatio (open-air swimming pool).

The size of the baths really struck me: the site dwarfs some of the buildings in the Forum. It also contained a public library and gym (plus &mdash interestingly &mdash another hidden temple to Mithras).

The baths are set a little way out of central Rome, and a great way to see them is on a Vespa tour. En route, your driver will take you past many other Roman sites, from the Circus Maximus, where chariot races were held, to the cobbled vestiges of the Via Appia, one of the most strategically important Roman roads.

60s slides of Herculaneum

When clearing out my grandparents’ house a couple of years ago I found seven packets of these 60s tourist slides of various places around the Mediterranean. I’ve been scanning and restoring them. First up, these from Herculaneum.

Herculaneum is a smaller coastal town near Pompeii that was also destroyed by the volcano. It’s not as well known, but there are some magnificent villas there in a similar but smaller archaeological park to the one you can visit at Pompeii. Some of the site is also covered over by the modern town of Ercolano, unlike Pompeii. (A strange by-product of studying Classics is that you end up knowing a lot about small towns in Campania).

Since the era of good-quality smartphone cameras, people don’t realise just how much calculation and technical help is going on in the background to give them better images. In the 60s you had to know what you were doing with exposures, lenses and film to get good photos, so there was a big market in these packets of slides for tourists. Why take your own incompetent photos when you could buy a packet of professional ones.

They hadn’t quite nailed the formula for consumer colour film in that era though, so over the years the blues and greens fade out, leaving everything pink and orange. Sometimes the slides look really surreal and cool in those colours, but mostly they just look muddy, so I’ve colour corrected them in Photoshop. I considered just selecting a few, but there’s only 36 images in the pack, so I’ll post them all with the info from the slides about what they are. Many of the houses have been given names by archaeologists based on the decoration inside.

Raw scan result- one of the images I like in pink however

After the colours are restored to the original- the central hall (atrium) of a richer house. The walls would originally have had plaster and murals

The palaestra– the outside area of the public gym for practicing sports like boxing and wrestling. This was one of the slides in the worst condition.

Remnants of murals in a shrine dedicated to Emperor Augustus. At the time of the explosion, Titus had just become Emperor after his father Vespasian died of diarrhea. Titus himself dies two years later from illness to be replaced with his deeply unpopular brother Domitian. So unpopular he was the last member of his dynasty.

Statues from the “House of the Deer”

Faded wall murals from the dining room of the House of the Deer. These people had money. Poor Romans lived in flats and ate at takeaways and pubs. Three or more couches with cushions would have been arranged around central low tables (hence triclinium for dining room in Latin). For entertaining, food would be served as finger style canapes, eaten relaxing on the sofas. Eating sitting up at a table was a sign you were in a rush and nobody important.

Dining room mosaics at the “House of Neptune”. Romans prioritised the decorating budget in the dining room because that’s where guests spend most of their time.

Street view. Roman houses were designed to look deliberately boring outside, to discourage robbers and to keep the heat out. Light came in via the central courtyard. You can still see plenty of houses in the same design in Morocco.

More expensive statuary at the House of the Deer. I’ve cleaned up all the other green dye stains from the slides, but I left this one because it made me laugh.

Courtyard in the House of the Frieze of Telephus

The dining room at the House of Neptune again.

Terrace at the House of the Deer

Entrance to the public gym

Tablinum- a home office. Often decorated with sculptures or paintings of family members. This is where business visitors were taken for meetings.

Another fancy peristyle garden. In some of the houses in Pompeii they’ve tested the soil and replanted the same plants as would have been growing in 79 AD in the garden.

Women’s changing rooms at the baths. You could pay someone to keep an eye on your stuff on those shelves. In Bath, there was a tradition of writing curses on pieces of lead and throwing them into the holy spring to come true. Archaeologists have fished out a lot cursing people who stole their clothes from the changing rooms.

Another grand courtyard. The roof was open in the centre and the pool would fill with rainwater. Some houses had a fountain here. That alcove would have a shrine to the household spirits and ancestors.

Wall murals at the baths. Most free Romans went every day – it was cheap and often politicians would try to buy votes by sponsoring free entry days. There was usually swimming, steam rooms, hot tubs, sauna and massages available (along with er, other services).

Grand peristyle garden at the House of Argus – one of the biggest villas in the town. When the remains were originally discovered in the 1820s the upstairs balcony was still in place, but it’s since fallen down.

Another street view, with a reconstructed upper floor on one of the houses. Most of these houses would have had a doorman, probably with a dog.

Pergola area in the garden of the House of the Deer

Hall of the house of the Frieze of Telephus – originally this would have had a roof (with an opening to let the water and light in).

Satyr statue from the House of the Deer. Look at his leopard skin cloak and goatskin bag of wine. He’s ready to party.

Another ruined hall- you can see the size of the house from outside. This was probably the most damaged slide.

The caldarium – the hot room at the baths. The usual order was to relax in the warm room, then cover yourself in olive oil and have a good sweat in the hot room, and scrape the dirty oil off taking the muck from your skin before having a refreshing plunge in the cold pool or a swim in the swimming pool. (Repeat as you like)

Central courtyard of a house with more of the upper level surviving. Roman bedrooms (cubiculum) were usually small and sparsely decorated. Decorating budget was saved for public rooms downstairs.

Women’s hot room at the baths. These baths had separate men and women’s facilities, but after the first century AD many were mixed.

Street of grand villas. Again it’s all on the inside.

Street fountain and remains of some shops and workshops. There were public wells and fountains fed from the aquaducts for everyone to use, and richer people had home plumbing. Unfortunately a lot of the pipes were made of lead.

Patio view of the House of the Deer – this is one of my favourite slides.

Snake sculpture at the gym.

A thermopolium – a Roman takeaway – this is where ordinary people would get meals. The holes are storage jars. Lots of mulled wine, lentil and chickpea dishes, baked cheeses, and a dish similar to pizza on the menu. With plenty of garum– fish sauce to drizzle over everything (it’s pretty much identical to modern Thai fish sauce). No tomato, no peppers, no citrus or potatoes though, those were yet to come. Poor people didn’t eat much meat, it was expensive. A good source was sacrifices at temples if they could get it. Conveniently the bit the gods liked from sacrificed animals was the gristle and bones, leaving the congregation free to eat the rest.

The House of the Deer in Herculaneum - History

House of the Stags: Herculaneum - News by

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» Gladiator's barracks
» Forum
» Triangular Forum
» Large Palaestra
» Lupanar (Brothel)
» Schola Armaturarum
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» Temple of Apollo
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» Forum Baths
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» House of Opus Craticium
» Termal Baths
» Hall of Augustals
» Basilica
» Forum
» House of Bicentenary
» House of the beatiful courtyard
» House of Neptune and Amphitrite
» House of the Stags
» Suburban Baths
» Palestra
» Villa of the Papyri

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» Capri
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House of the Stags
Herculaneum Ruins

Named after the marble statues found in its peristyle garden, it was extensively remodelled before the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Its layout was designed to make its spectacular sea views as much a feature of the house as its architecture. The house of the stags was excavated by Maiuri between 1929-1932. Its last owner was identified as one Q Granius Verus from the stamp on a loaf of bread found preserved in the house. The Granii were a family of successful merchants.

Maiuri identified a large elite villa. The house appears to have been first built during the reign of either the Emperor Augustus or Claudius. It was completely remodelled not long before the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius. The only original part of the house that remained was the atrium. The rest of the house was completely redesigned to link a series of interconnected rooms and spaces with the spectacular sea views the villa enjoyed.

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Tales of Telephus

In Greek mythology, Telephus (also Telephos - meaning "far-shining") was the son of Auge, a priestess of Athena who was raped by Heracles. When her father, King Aleus of Tegea learned of her violation, he attempted to dispose of mother and child. But they ended up in Asia Minor at the court of Teuthras, king of Mysia, where Telephus was adopted as the childless king's heir.

How mother and son ended up in Asia Minor is explained in a variety of versions. In the oldest extant account from a fragment of Hesiod's "Catalogue of Women, 6th century BCE, Auge goes to Mysia, is raised as a daughter by Teuthras, raped by Heracles when he arrives seeking the horses of Laomedon, and Telephus is born there. In some accounts Telephus arrives in Mysia as an infant with his mother, where Teuthras marries Auge, and adopts Telephus. In still another tale, while Auge (in various ways) is delivered to the Mysian court where she again becomes wife to the king, Telephus is instead left behind in Arcadia, having been abandoned on Mount Parthenion, either by Aleus, or by Auge when she gave birth while being taken to the sea by Nauplius to be drowned. However Telephus is suckled by a deer found and raised by King Corythus, or his herdsmen. Seeking knowledge of his mother, Telephus consulted the Delphic oracle which directed him to Mysia, where he was reunited with Auge and adopted by Teuthras.

It is this last version that found favor with Romans in Herculaneum where a fresco depicting Heracles finding Telephus suckled by a deer, with Arkadia, Pan and a winged Virgo looking on was recovered from the Augusteum and is now at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

Various plays were centered on the birth of Telephus including a tragedy by Sophocles entitled "Aleadae" (Sons of Aleus) and a play by Euripedes named "Auge," both of which only fragments survive. In Sophocles' play as recounted by 4th century BCE orator Alcidamas, Auge's father Aleus had been warned by the Delphic oracle that if Auge had a son, then this grandson would kill Aleus' sons, so Aleus made Auge a priestess of Athena, telling her she must remain a virgin, on pain of death. But Heracles passing through Tegea, being entertained by Aleus in the temple of Athena, became enamored of Auge and while drunk had sex with her. Aleus discovered that Auge was pregnant and gave her to Nauplius to be drowned. But, on the way to the sea, Auge gave birth to Telephus on Mount Parthenion, and according to Alcidamas, Nauplius, ignoring his orders, sold mother and child to the childless Mysian king Teuthras, who married Auge and adopted Telephus, and "later gave him to Priam to be educated at Troy". Alcidamas' version of the story must have diverged from Sophocles in at least this last respect, though. For, rather than the infant Telephus being sold to Teuthras, as in Alcidamas, an Aleadae fragment seems to infer that in the Sophoclean play, the new-born Telephus was instead abandoned (on Mount Parthenion?), where he is suckled by a deer.

It is Sophocles that includes the connection to Troy where, eventually, Telephus, was reportedly wounded by the Greek hero Achilles during the Greeks' first offensive against Troy.

"The Delphic oracle told Telephos that he could be healed only by the offending weapon. In an attempt to secure Achilles' help, he sought out Orestes, the young son of Agamemnon, and threatened to kill him. Achilles finally heeded Telephos' entreaties and furnished scrapings of his spear that healed the festering wound. - Metropolitan Museum of Art

Representations of various events of the Telephus myth have been depicted on red-figure pottery from as early as 510 BCE and east-Ionian engraved gems from about 480 BCE. As at Herculaneum, scenes showing Telephus suckled by a deer or holding Orestes hostage were particularly popular. Roman depictions of Telephus suckled by a deer were popular through the 3rd century CE.

Other scenes include either his wounding or his healing by Achilles. In the House of the Relief of Telephus, also from Herculaneum, we see a seated Telephus being healed by Achilles who scrapes rust from his spear on the festered wound.

The most complete single account of the life of Telephus is depicted in the first-century BCE Telephus frieze, a decorative relief from the Pergamon Altar produced between 180 and 156 BCE now reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

Herculaneum Now

The best view of the city would be from the top, you would get a panoramic view of the entire city. Herculaneum was the closest to Mount Vesuvius around 6 Kilometres but was saved from direct destruction because the wind direction was towards Pompeii which was around 10 kilometers away. What caused catastrophic damage but indirectly helped to preserve the city was the large pyroclastic flow which covered Herculaneum under 20 meters of debris. Some of the structure that you can still see at Herculaneum are as follows:-

Entrance to Herculaneum Site – Ticket Counters Are Further Inside Follow This Elevated Path Which Actually Takes You over the Ancient Site Ticket Counter View of the Herculaneum Site from Top View of the Herculaneum Site from Top Rianna Watching Herculaneum Site from Top View of the Herculaneum Site from Top View of the Herculaneum Site from Top View of the Herculaneum Site from Top

Ancient Roman Still Life Painting

Still Life with Peaches and Water Jar (left), Still Life with a Silver Tray with Prunes, Dried figs, Dates and Glass of Wine (center), and Still Life with Branch of Peaches, Fourth Style wall painting from Herculaneum, Italy, c. 62-69 C.E., fresco, 14 x 13 1/2 inches (Archaeological Museum, Naples)

By Dr. Lea K. Cline / 04.22.2017
Assistant Professor of Art History
Illinois State University

Hostess gifts

When I was growing up, my (proper, Southern) mother always insisted that I bring a hostess gift (a hostess gift is a gift given to the host or hostess of an event by guests) to my friend’s parents when I spent the night at their house. A typical teenager, I thought she was annoyingly old fashioned. This painting, Still Life with Peaches and Water Jar, proves that she was old fashioned…really old fashioned. It turns out that the practice of presenting hostess gifts dates back to the ancient Greeks in antiquity, though, it was the host—not the guest—who presented the gifts. This small fresco is an example of how the Romans played the hostess game and how this generosity was captured by ancient Roman artists.

House of the Stags, Herculaneum

Archaeologists discovered Still Life with Peaches and Water Jar in the House of the Stags in Herculaneum, once a wealthy, seaside town on the Bay of Naples just a few miles north of Pompeii. Like Pompeii, Herculaneum was destroyed by the eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius on August 24, 79 C.E. The House of the Stags, named after two sculptures of stags (or male deer) found in its peristyle (a peristyle is a row of columns surrounding the perimeter of building or a courtyard) garden, was among the fanciest houses in town, oriented to take full advantage of Herculaneum’s panoramic sea view. Archaeologists believe that the house was owned by the wealthy merchant Q. Granius Verus since his stamp was discovered on a loaf of bread, amazingly preserved by the volcanic ash, unearthed in the house. (Stamping bread was a common practice because Roman houses, unlike most modern houses, did not have private ovens. Ovens were dangerous and hot so most Romans took their bread out for baking after preparing the dough at home. You stamped your loaf so it would not get mixed up in the ovens or claimed by someone else.)

House of the Stags, Herculanum (photo: Cornell University)

We cannot be sure whether the family of the Granii were the original builders of the house (likely during the reign of the emperor Claudius, from 41-54 C.E.) but they seem likely to have undertaken a major renovation not long before Mt. Vesuvius erupted. In the years immediately preceding the destruction of Herculaneum, all 25 rooms in the House of the Stags were repaired and redecorated in the newest style of painting—the Fourth Style only the old atrium, with its historic frescoes, remained untouched as a sign of the house’s historic importance. So, although the house survives today only as a ruin, when the Granii family woke up on that fateful morning in 79 C.E., they would have experienced a home resplendent with freshly painted walls and colorful mosaic floors, terrace fountains filling the spaces with the sound of trickling water, and gardens filling the house with wafts of sweet fragrance carried in by the sea air. It is too bad the day did not end as nicely.

Still Life with Peaches and Water Jar, detail of a Fourth Style wall painting from Herculaneum, Italy, c. 62-69 C.E., fresco, 14 x 13 1/2 inches (Archaeological Museum, Naples)

Still Life with Peaches and Water Jar was one small part of this house’s decorative scheme, not meant to be seen in isolation. It was part of a series of at least ten roughly-square still-life compositions, painted together in a row, sharing decorative borders. This series of paintings presents a variety of fruits, crustaceans, fish, fowl, meats, vegetables, and drinking vessels set against a neutral brown background, sometimes with a step, shelf or wall niche on which the artist arranged the display.

Still Life with Peaches and Water Jar features five unripe peaches (one only barely formed), their branch cascading off a shelf, and a glass jar of water in the foreground. One of the peaches has been pulled from the branch and bitten open, revealing a reddish pit and white flesh that contrast sharply against its yellow-green skin. The glass jar shows the artist’s ability to register two types of transparency at once: the clear glass vessel and the clear liquid that it contains. While the patron may have wanted the glass, among the most expensive luxuries in Roman Italy, included as a display of their wealth, the artist turned it into an opportunity to demonstrate his skill at depicting these visually complex attributes in perspective.

Xenia (hospitality)

Still Life with Peaches and Water Jar, like the small scenes that accompanied it, belongs to a category of still life paintings known as xenia, drawing on the Greek word for “guest-friendship” or hospitality. Xenia (hospitality) was shown to guests who were far from home by accommodating them and by presenting them with the means to be comfortable (a bed, food, a bath, etc.). This was not just a matter of being polite, but was considered a religious obligation for the Greeks—an idea preserved in both Homeric epic and mythology. The Greeks believed that Zeus Xenios, Zeus’s role as protector of guests, wandered in disguise with travelers, testing the capacity of hosts to be generous and tolerant. Although the devotion with which the Greeks pursued the quality of xenia was not matched by the Romans, the Romans nevertheless took pride in their ability to provide hospitality to guests, especially those whose social favor they wanted to earn (those who were more wealthy and socially important). Xenia, for the Romans, was more about the display of hospitality for appearance’s sake than it was a religious devotion.

Still Life with Hen (left), Still Life with Two Cuttlefish, a Silver Jug, Bird, Shells, Snails and Lobster (center), and Still-life with a Hare and Grapes (right), Fourth Style wall painting from Herculaneum, Italy, c. 62-69 C.E., fresco, 14 x 13 1/2 inches (Archaeological Museum, Naples)

The small xenia paintings at the House of the Stags are not unusual many rich houses, especially houses and villas located along the coast where visitors from Rome might want to travel to escape the summer heat (or political turmoil), were outfitted with special guest quarters. Xenia paintings are frequently found in these rooms, announcing to these guests that they would be lavished with the finest foods and service wear while in the house. The ancient Roman architect Vitruvius suggested that the xenia include, in particular, “poultry, eggs, vegetables, and other country produce” as a way to highlight the experience of getting out of the city and into the countryside (de Architectura VI.7.4). The xenia at the House of the Stags, as Vitruvius might have liked, present fruits and fish (known as area specialties) along with the standard fare.

Still-Life with Chicken and Hare (left), Still Life with Partridge, Pomegranate and Apple (second from let), Still Life with Thrushes and Mushrooms (third from left), Still-Life with Partridges and Eels (far right), Fourth Style wall painting from Herculaneum, Italy, c. 62-69 C.E., fresco, 14 x 13 1/2 inches (Archaeological Museum, Naples)

Xenia paintings or mosaics also appear in more public areas of houses where clients (people who depend on the homeowner’s business) and less-wealthy visitors might see them. In these cases, the xenia spoke to the wealth of the family, and the level of generosity that they could afford to show to those lucky enough to be invited (even if the viewers did not belong to that chosen group). I suspect that my mother had a different idea when sending me with hostess gifts: more an apology for whatever trouble I might get in than a display of wealth and social importance. Still, her insistence that I present myself with hostess gift in hand demonstrates that showing our best and accommodating guests with grace has never gone out of style.

Additional Resources

Joanne Berry, The Complete Pompeii (London: Thames & Hudson, 2013).

Roger Ling, Roman Painting (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

Donatella Mazzoleni and Umberto Pappalardo, Domus: Wall Painting in the Roman House (Los Angeles: Getty Trust Publications, 2005).

Umberto Pappalardo, The Splendor of Roman Wall Painting (Los Angeles: Getty Trust Publications, 2009).

The House of the Deer in Herculaneum - History

Thomas Drayton and his wife Ann arrived from Barbados to the new English colony of Charles Towne and established Magnolia Plantation along the Ashley River in 1676. Thomas and Ann were the first in a direct line of Magnolia family ownership that has lasted more than 300 years and continues to this day.

Magnolia Plantation saw immense wealth and growth through the cultivation of rice during the Colonial era. Later, British and American troops would occupy its grounds during the American Revolution, while the Drayton sons would become both statesmen and soldiers fighting against British rule.

The establishment of the early gardens at Magnolia Plantation in the late 17th century would see an explosion of beauty and expansion throughout the 18th century, but it was not until the early 19th century did the gardens at Magnolia truly begin to expand on a grand scale.

Upon his death in 1825, Thomas Drayton, the great grandson of Magnolia's first Drayton, willed the estate successively to his daughter's sons, Thomas and John Grimké. As he had no male heirs to leave it to, he made the condition in the will that they assume their mother's maiden name of Drayton. Some time later, while in England preparing for the ministry, young John Grimké Drayton received word that his older brother Thomas had died on the steps of the plantation house of a gunshot wound received while riding down the oak avenue during a deer hunt. Thus, having expected to inherit little or nothing as a second son, young John found himself a wealthy plantation owner at the age of 22.

Despite the prestige and wealth inherent in ownership of Magnolia and other plantations, he resolved still to pursue his ministerial career and in 1838 he entered the Episcopal seminary in New York. While there, he fell in love with, and married, Julia Ewing, daughter of a prominent Philadelphia attorney. Returning to Charleston with his bride, he strove to complete his clerical studies while bearing the burden of managing his large estate. The pressure took its toll, and his fatigue resulted in tuberculosis. His own cure for the illness was working outside in the gardens he loved. He also wanted to create a series of romantic gardens for his wife to make her feel more at home in the South Carolina Lowcountry. A few years later, as though by a miracle, his health returned, allowing him to enter the ministry as rector of nearby Saint Andrews Church, which had served plantation owners since 1706 and still stands just two miles down the highway towards Charleston. But until his death a half-century later, along with his ministry, Rev. Drayton continued to devote himself to the enhancement of the plantation garden, expressing his desire to a fellow minister in Philadelphia, ". to create an earthly paradise in which my dear Julia may forever forget Philadelphia and her desire to return there."

In tune with the changes he had seen taking place in English gardening away from the very formal design earlier borrowed from the French, John Grimké Drayton moved towards greater emphasis on embellishing the soft natural beauty of the site. More than anyone else he can be credited with the internationally acclaimed informal beauty of the garden today. He introduced the first azaleas to America, and he was among the first to utilize Camellia Japonica in an outdoor setting. A great deal of Magnolia's horticultural fame today is based on the large and varied collection of varieties of these two species–not the abundant and lovely Southern Magnolia for which the plantation just happened to have been named.

The outbreak of the American Civil War would threaten the welfare of the family, the house, and the gardens themselves. But the plantation would recover from the war to see additional growth of the gardens as they became the focus of the plantation over agriculture when the gardens opened to the public for the first time in 1870 and saved the plantation from ruin. Since that time, the plantation and gardens have evolved and grown into one of the greatest public gardens in America with a rich history. To explore that history in-depth and hear the stories of those who lived and worked there over the centuries, visit Magnolia Plantation & Gardens today.

Watch the video: CAVEMAN Cooking Wild Deer - WHOLE! Catch, Clean, Cook in the FOREST (May 2022).


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