Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Gorgeous, Sad Walls --- Day 10/5

Walk: Polk Street

Distance: 3 miles, small yoga

Ciwt doesn't often mention in food-obsessed San Francisco that she's not that interested in food.  Surviving in a tasty way, Yes!  But she enjoys most anything that is brought to the table and is not a foodie.

So the Legion of Honor's current (and Grand Lockdown Reopening!) exhibition, Last Meal at Pompeii,  was a bit of a challenge for her.  First, it focuses on all things food: cooking and eating utensils, tableware, dining furniture, sculptures of food, and, ugh, actual ash-covered, petrified food.  Second, much of  what she was viewing was at Pompeii the moment all life forms were instantaneously extinquished by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius 24 August, AD 79.  

In all that food and ruination what began to stand out for her was an art form she had never particularly noticed before: the painted walls.  Still so lively, richly colored and beautiful even in ancient, fragmented form.

Fresco Depicting a Woman, Roman, Pompeii, 1st Century AD

Turns out the history of Roman painting is essentially a history of wall painting on plaster.  And, really, it is glorious.  

The wonder of these frescoes having survived the vast destruction of Vesuvius - which buried much of the region around the Bay of Naples including  the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum - must be due in large part to the elaborate methods and materials that were employed in their creation.  Wall painters at the time inserted sheets of lead in the walls to prevent moisture from them from attacking the paint.  Then they applied as many as seven layers of plaster on top of which they worked in marble powder which accounts for the mirror like sheen and luster still visible today.

As if that wasn't complex enough, there was the creation of colors for the frescoes.  The red you see above was derived either from cinnabar, red ocher, or from heating white lead.  Ocher was extracted from mines and served for yellow.  Blue was made from mixing sand, purple was usually (and impossibly thinks Ciwt) obtained from sea welks and that deep black below was drawn from carbon created by burning brushwood or pine chips.

Fresco with siren, sea monsters, and niche on black ground, Roman, AD 50-79

Such intricate, advanced techniques, such care and artistic skill!  Sad to see the frescoes after the cataclysmic circumstances that froze them in the past.  But much appreciation and admiration to the artists and artisans who created this timelessly beautiful wall art.


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