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Divine Interiors

Divine Interiors: Mural Paintings in Greek and Roman Sanctuaries

Eric M. Moormann
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    Divine Interiors
    Book Description:

    Divine Interiors is an investigation into the decoration of Greek and Roman temples with wall paintings. Mighty marble facades, sculptures and paintings played an important role in relation to these monuments. While the official temples, which were connected to the city or state, usually had a simple but solemn appearance, the more popular buildings were true multi-color expressions of religiosity. Scenes from the life of the revered deity, supporters and practitioners of the cult, or of plants and animals could carry visitors of the shrines away to different worlds. It is also striking to find in the vast Greco-Roman world that there are many similarities between often widely separated temples. The wall paintings were characterized by stylistic and taste changes, but they had the same look everywhere. Besides using archeological remains, this book also uses the texts of antiquity, whose descriptions of the monuments provide additional information.Amsterdam Archaeological Studies is a series devoted to the study of past human societies from the prehistory up into modern times, primarily based on the study of archaeological remains. The series will include excavation reports of modern fieldwork; studies of categories of material culture; and synthesising studies with broader images of past societies, thereby contributing to the theoretical and methodological debates in archaeology.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1320-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The ancient practice of decorating sacred buildings differs greatly from that in previous cultures and contemporary or later ones, where sanctuaries are recognisable from exterior and interior alike as such.¹ The architecture, form, building elements and decoration (e.g. paintings) betray at first glance where the visitor is - in an Egyptian temple, in a Catholic cathedral, in a Protestant church, in a mosque or a Buddhist temple. An image of the god or saint in the façade informs the viewer about the god or saint venerated here. In the case of an icon-forbidding religion, there may be a token like...

  2. 1 Paintings Described in Ancient Texts
    (pp. 7-42)

    The ancient sources do not abound in lengthy descriptions of painted decoration in shrines. Most records are no more than short references focusing on the artists themselves rather than their work or on technical details of their work. That does not mean, however, that these references are without interest for this investigation. These texts tell us about the prestige such paintings could have had and about their relative rarity or peculiarity. The sources can be divided into two categories, the first including information about real buildings (still extant or lost) and the second focusing on fictitious temples which only appear...

  3. 2 Paintings Found in Public Temples of the Greek world
    (pp. 43-46)

    The remains of painted decoration in Greek temples are very scarce and scattered across the Greek world. All belong to the category of grand public temples. This means that no coherent and multifaceted discussion of the original practice of temple decorations (except for sculptured and architectural decoration), is possible. I therefore briefly present the instances known to me.¹

    The oldest example of painted decoration in Greek sanctuaries is the Temple of Poseidon in Isthmia, dating to the first half of the seventh century BC. The excavator Oscar Broneer found fragments of thin layers of plaster on which he distinguished partial...

  4. 3 Paintings Found in Public Temples in Roman Italy
    (pp. 47-86)

    At the end of the Republic, the city of Rome possessed a great number of old temples constructed in tuff, timber framing and mud brick. As a rule, they must have had wall paintings that covered the roughly constructed walls, thereby forming an important aspect of the decoration. The use of these traditional building materials continued until the beginning of the first century AD, although by then new techniques were increasingly practiced. Most monuments discussed in this section belong to the group of public monuments financed by the city’s prestigious citizens.

    Gradually, constructions in brickwork grew in number and volume...

  5. 4 Paintings in Provincial Roman Temples Across the Alps
    (pp. 87-110)

    Without claiming completeness, I present in this chapter those examples of paintings in temples found in the European provinces of the Roman Empire that have come to my attention. They have been arranged according to modern political borders.

    In most cases, nothing but fragments of murals survives, but a few complexes allow the reconstruction of painting schemes and/or decorative programmes. In general, discussions of insignificant fragments have been left out. Many of the studies consulted are quite technical in nature in the sense of reconstructing the decorations on the basis of the fragments and through technical analyses of mortars and...

  6. 5 The Eastern Half of the Empire and North Africa
    (pp. 111-118)

    The Near East followed the developments in Hellenistic architecture and art introduced during the era of the Diadochs and the archaeological record shows many examples of the implementation of Greek-inspired forms and fashions. As to our topic, our knowledge has increased in the last decades thanks to explorations of monumental complexes like the royal palaces in Jericho, houses in Jerusalem and the famous fortress of Masada. A lavish monograph on Jericho by Silvia Rozenberg contains an excellent overview of the corpus of mural decorations between the late second century BC and the beginning of our era in Israel and Jordan.¹...

  7. 6 Painted Shrines Dedicated to the Roman Emperor
    (pp. 119-148)

    Several monuments that represent an important religious feature during the Imperial era, namely the cult of the (defunct) emperors, are relevant in the framework of this study and will be discussed in this chapter. There will be a particular focus on specific characteristics of their decoration. The Roman Empire had a vibrant cult of select emperors who were venerated in official temples, often in combination with the goddess Roma, but also in small shrines built and looked after by private groups oflibertior citizens. While Augustus had set a good example by erecting a temple for his adoptive father...

  8. 7 Roman Shrines Housing Non-Roman Cults
    (pp. 149-188)

    Several gods and goddesses possessed cults in which the worshippers had to be initiated and formed communities closed to people not religiously involved. This does not mean that all of them were strictly secret, as has often been argued, but that people had to be physically or psychologically separated from the rest of the community.¹ The sanctuaries of Isis and Mithras are relevant to this study because many shrines were decorated with paintings. While there are not many temples of Isis with painted decoration, her temple in Pompeii offers an excellent example which deserves a lengthy discussion. Mithras’ artificial grottoes...

  9. 8 Dura Europos: A Case Study
    (pp. 189-202)

    During the late Roman Empire, the city of Dura Europos possessed some extremely interesting examples of temple paintings. The painted rooms are located along the city wall on the town’s land side. They were backfilled during the final years of Dura’s existence, when the city defences had to be enlarged, thereby ensuring their preservation. Like the Mithraea in Dura itself and also in Rome and Ostia (see Chapter 7), the synagogue and the church are architecturally modest rooms integrated into existing houses and constructed of local materials.¹ The mudbrick walls are covered with lavish images which illustrate or emphasize the...

  10. 9 Final Remarks
    (pp. 203-206)

    It is clear that while paintings formed an important decorative element in temples, their composition differed only slightly from the general fashions of domestic wall decorations. The shrines were conceived of as the houses of the gods and consequently were adorned with decorations similar to those of the houses of the worshippers, both on inside and outside of the cult building. Such an observation justifies the conclusion that the cult statue and gifts must have drawn almost all the attention of the worshippers. It therefore appears that the rest of the decoration, even lavish reliefs or architectural ornaments, was subordinate...

  11. Index of Ancient Text Sources
    (pp. 227-228)
  12. Index of Names, Places and Subjects
    (pp. 229-236)