From templa to tecta : illusionistic coffered ceilings and the construction of Roman domestic space
Castillo, Kristopher Cody
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Embellishing one's house was an important part of Roman life for the majority of individuals. The evidence from Pompeii reveals that almost all buildings had some sort of painted surface, often of very high quality. Many scholars have hypothesized the reasons for this culture of decoration among Roman domestic spaces. Both ancient literary sources and the archaeological record reveal that houses were of supreme importance to Roman elite self-presentation. Both Cicero and Vitruvius are in agreement that a house is a direct reflection of the personality and status of the owner. There is a limit to this, however, as both authors shun extravagant decorative elements like gilded wooden coffers. Scholars who have tackled the issue of the ceiling have only had the opportunity to create typologies and consider the stylistic elements of decoration as they relate to the traditional Pompeian Styles. This thesis aims to advance this conversation by describing the importance of ceiling decoration to the overall effect of the decorative schemes within the Roman house. The study will utilize the coffer as the guiding principle for this exploration due to its lasting popularity throughout the Pompeian Styles. In focusing on the coffer, I will attempt to explain the lasting popularity of this choice of ornamentation. By using a set of case studies spanning two hundred years of decoration in Roman houses, I hope to clearly illustrate the impact of ceiling decoration on the viewer and how it might interact with larger design ensembles. There is little doubt that the changing styles and tastes of the Roman homeowner and artist affected the ways the coffer was represented, but the coffer was also a type of ornamentation. The rhythmic motif of geometric shapes would have had an effect on the viewer and their conception of space in the same way that a mosaic might.