Roman Wall Painting of a Young Lady


An extremely fine and unique fragment of an Ancient Roman fresco painted on plaster and featuring the polychromatic depiction of a female figure, shown standing, facing right, possibly in the act of picking a fruit or a flower from a vine. The figure is portrayed wearing a long, draped robe, with folds emphasised by black pigment, and black leather sandals at her feet. Her long hair appears loose on her shoulders, topped by a red handkerchief. Despite the fragmentary condition, facial and anatomical features appear nicely rendered. Most of the frescoes produced during the roman period, given the fragility of their very nature, have been destroyed. This example is therefore an almost unique testimony of the pictorial ability of the Romans.

Date: Circa 4th-5th century AD, possibly Eastern part of the Roman Empire.
Provenance: From the private collection of a Canadian gentleman living in London; acquired circa 1984 and subsequently cleaned and mounted in a plaster matrix by Martin Foster around 1994.
Condition: Fine condition. The fresco has been set in a modern plaster mix to better preserve its integrity, and mounted on a custom-made velvet stand, ideal for display. Measurements given are just for the fresco.


In Antiquity frescoes were used to ornament walls, including those of the villae urbanae, houses of wealthy citizens, and those of public and religious places, like baths and temples. When Mount Vesuvius erupted on the 24thof August 79 AD, the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were completely buried. This catastrophic event however, allowed archaeologists to discover two Roman cities completely intact and untouched by the passing of time. The majority of the known Roman frescoes have been recovered from the villas and public spaces of those two important cities, providing a unique testimony of the pictorial techniques and artistic themes during the Roman Empire. Roman pictorial practices and techniques are explained by Vitruvius, author of the fundamental architecture manual De Architectura. Vitruvius describes how the plaster would have been carefully built up to as many as seven layers, with the addition of marble powder in the top layers to create a mirror-like reflection to the surface. Finally, the fresh plaster would have been painted. Romans used pigments driven from natural resources such as carbon, minerals or sea whelks. The fresco technique expects the dry-powder pigments to be laid on fresh plaster: in this way the pigments would have merged completely to the plaster, becoming an integral part of the wall. However, some softer, pastel pigments would have been added later, on the dry plaster (this technique is known as “a secco”). Decorative motifs on frescoes included mythological and bucolic scenes, episodes driven from literature and theatre, and every-day life subjects. Although is impossible for us to discern the true identity behind the figure portrayed on our fresco, the loose hair of the figure might identify her as a young girl. During the Roman Empire young girls regularly wore their hair loose.


Weight 3500 g
Dimensions H 28 cm



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