Pompeii Inspiration Grotesques
The Romans ornamented their saloons with paintings in which flowers, men, beasts, and buildings are mingled together according to the fancy of the artist. They are usually set out in a symmetrical pattern around some form of architectural framework. These ornaments are called grotesques, because they were found in the ruined buildings of the ancient Romans, and in subterranean chambers, which the Italians called grottoes.
After the fall of Rome, most frescoes and stucco work were gradually lost to view and the style largely forgotten until the Renaissance, when ancient imperial dwellings ornamented with frescoes were accidentally excavated. Raphael serving both as Prefect of Antiquities and Chief Architect of the Vatican, delighted in the grace and freedom of the old design, and he and his helpers imitated them in the Vatican stucco work. The decorations astonished and charmed a generation of artists that was familiar with the grammar of the classical orders but had not guessed till then that in their private houses the Romans had often disregarded those rules and had adopted instead a more fanciful and informal style that was all lightness, elegance and grace. The style was never totally forgotten after the Renaissance revival, but its next great period of popularity came in the first half of the nineteenth century, stimulated by the discoveries of the buried cities of Pompei which had actually been partially unearthed in 1748, but it was not until 1817 when handsomely engraved books like Sir William Gell’s Pompeiiana began to appear and the popular imagination got caught up in the Pompeii artwork with Arabesque-Grotesque designs, far superior to the Roman work were being created. Their discovery coincided with a great surge in the decorative arts. Robert Adam was one of the proponents of a reawakened interest in antiquity during the second half of the eighteenth century. This brought new rules for conceptualizing architecture and interior design.The Etruscan Room at Osterley Park. Here Adam was inspired by ancient vase painting and the archaeological imagination of Piranesi, coupling red and black grotesque patterns on a cream or light blue background with silhouettes and tiny multicolored tondi of a variety of scenes.Marie Antoinette’s boudoir in Fontainebleau Castle, built by Pierre Rousseau, one of the queen’s favorite architect-decorators. Here French neoclassical painted decor in the Raphaelesque grotesque manner appear with a mother-of-pearl background.
The Gabinetto d’Amore in the Milzetti Palace in Faenza. This fresco was made by Felice Giani at the beginning of the nineteenth century.The Sala dell’Antibagno also in the Milzetti Palace.
Grotesque decorative motifs in the Hall of Fine Arts in the Royal Palace of Venice.
On a recent trip to Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas I was impressed with their grotesques.
Today there are decorative artists that specialize in reproducing Grotesques. You can find an artist in your area by contacting The International Decorative Artists League. There are also stencils available of grotesques by the artist Nicola Vigini which can be ordered from Royal Design Studio.
Here is one of my adaptations of a grotesque inspired canvas I did for a kitchen.
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