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Decorative Periods:
Decorative Stles And Periods In The Home
General Antiquity
Pompeian Decorative Styles And Periods
Gothic Decorative Styles And Periods
The Renaissance
Decorative Styles And Periods In Italy
Decorative Styles And Periods In France
The Style Of Louis Quatorze
The Style Of Louis Quinze
The Style Of Lous Seize
Empire Decorative Styles And Periods
Elizabethan Or Tudor Styles Sixteenth Century
Jacobean Period
Queen Anne
Chippendale Middle Of Eighteenth Century
The Adams Brother
Hepplewhite Book Issued 1789
Shearton - End Of The Eighteenth Century
English And American Empire
Art Nouveau

Pompeian Decorative Styles And Periods

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



When doting parents are compelled to show photographs of their adored family instead of the palpitating loveliness of the children themselves, their feelings are as mine in mentioning Pompeii. The pictures show the loved object as it never looks except in a picture, uncompromisingly changeless, lacking in atmosphere and in those exquisite and infinite varieties that are its peculiar charm. Explain and amplify as one will, the photograph creates but indifference. Colour it too, with the best quality of water paints to assist imagination, but can the flush on photographic gray equal the delicious glowing texture of the skin of childhood; can it produce remotely the piquant qualities of change that occur in the moving lights?

As with these paper shadows of children, so with photographs of that fascinating, exquisite little city under the shadow of Vesuvius. The photographs are recognisable, yes, but soulless as the shell of a locust. Personal acquaintance, personal contact with the drawing and the colour of the place are necessary for its understanding. As the child in the photograph gives none of itself, bestows no winning caress, so the little city of dainty homes refuses its endearing charms to all except those who take the trouble to visit her, to observe her moods and to learn her happy characteristics. To these she speaks with unforgetable eloquence.

And so the charity of understanding leads one to wonder at those who, never having seen, will yet dare to copy a style that seems at first flush cold, thin, and out of keeping with the note of lavish luxury that characterises our day. But whether copied or not, it is to be studied with loving enthusiasm as being the highest perfection of style that art has given us, of all atmospheres the most chaste, of all lines the purest, of all details the most exquisite. And as the details are adaptable to almost all simple schemes of house-decoration, a certain familiarity with their original use is needed for their complete understanding, and that they may yield their full gift of pleasure to the observer. All of Greek and all of Roman detail at their best are found in Pompeii; and in knowing her we know all except those matters that have to do more with architecture than with the embellishment that completes the home.

This then is the plea for remarks on a style which it may not be desirable to reproduce in every particular; that in detail it is the most beautiful ever produced, and that from it proceed many later styles with which we are familiar, and which are simply revivals or adaptations.

The Pompeian house is the only dwelling we moderns ever copy from the antique with any degree of fidelity, because it is the only one of a size appropriate to our needs. It is piquant in its indifference to the world, turning to the street a front insolently devoid of ornament; but once inside, the charm of its carefully studied interior falls like a grateful dew on the senses. It were impossible to enter such a house with other than a smiling face and glowing eyes.

It is this power to charm at the very threshold that makes the Pompeian style desirable for the entrance to our modern houses, though it be continued no further. Its appropriateness for this use has been demonstrated often enough to lift it from the field of experiment, but it is never tried to the dissatisfaction of the owner. A Pompeian room is always a success because its taste is unquestioned and its beauty never tires.

I have in mind several crude horrors that have blinded the eyes and caused an actual shrinking sensation to the body, which were called Pompeian rooms. In these, flat colour surfaces of glaring red or yellow or black were broken by impossible massive figures, set midway between floor and ceiling, the whole bordered with small, weak designs in many colours. Do such rooms remotely suggest the exquisite soft colours of the real Pompeii? Do they It is not of such I speak, not of the German paperhanger's diluted and perverted reminiscence of the traditions of his trade, but of the true Pompeii with colour so exquisite as to produce an actual physical thrill on beholding it; of colour so rich as to claim the repose of the eye as a soft couch invites repose to the body; colours so exquisite that for the moment form is forgotten and the sense of sight holds intoxicated revel in tint and shading of yellows, greens, and reds; these tones are in the mind, these and many others cooler and more elusive, and are inseparable from the true Pompeian room.

It is one of the happy things of our times that taste among artisans and tradesmen is improving, and men can be found who will adhere conscientiously and lovingly to the antique. And yet it seems to be that the exquisite daintiness of Pompeian walls is impossible to reproduce. That is partly because Time is an artist whose finishing touches we value, but for whom we cannot afford to wait.

And this makes it desirable to adopt the feeling of the styles in its colouring rather than to try to reproduce frescoes that are not reproducible. A sweep of plain colour, of the indefinite green which plays over the sea at ebb tide, the white that suggests old ivory, of the toned red that makes a welcome glow from the walls, - these things are better than a following of the impossible; and all of these plain surfaces may be bordered with any of the charming designs in which Pompeii is so rich.

The fluted columns are such gratifying characteristics of the courts of dwellings in the unburied city that it seems a pity for any house to omit them. Out there in the sun of the Italian noon, or, in the purple of the twilight, and whether whole or mutilated, they bespeak a generous dignity. Set in our own modern homes, the dignity is still there and is imparted to the house it ornaments.

Flat pilasters, fluted or plain, these are indispensable for the architectonic effect desired. Add simple wood-work and a mosaic floor, and the Pompeian room is ready for its furniture. Does it look cold in its purity? Perhaps, but it is not made as a lounging room. It has the reserve of the house entrance, - a place where those who would enter the sanctuary of home must wait and give just reason why they may be admitted, the surroundings meanwhile answering for the integrity of the owner. This is the intent of any ante-chamber, which is, after all, a place of neutrality, one where the applicant must feel a certain ceremony, and yet an elegance and taste which are due his intelligence and position. The happy dignity of the Pompeian style makes it the ideal for the entrance hall of the modern dwelling.

The furniture too is appropriate for the uses of ceremony. Those original moveables that have resisted destruction are all of stone or metal; and while true in line and exquisite in detail, apparently contributed but little to the bodily ease which is of first importance in all rooms except the entrance hall.

In the gardens of certain houses in Pompeii are reproductions of various small pieces of furniture found in the locality; but these being garden furniture are strong and simple, yet dainty withal. It was as though the people of that day and time felt their choicest room to be the one of which Heaven supplied the roof and Nature the decoration. Here were set images of dancing fauns and satyrs as though even such free creatures of wood and hilltop would find accustomed pleasures there. And here were disposed un-awesome seats and tables that invited genial intercourse of friends.

Few but exquisite are the bronze tables and chairs that outlived the centuries of burial. They are reproduced seldom, but are a never-failing wonder and delight even when viewed in the unsympathetic atmosphere of a museum. Lamps and candlesticks and smaller bronzes show the consummate skill of both designer and worker, and have a power all their own of thrilling him whose happy privilege it is to stand before them and worshipfully gaze. They are the ne plus ultra of refined beauty, - a beauty without sensuousness, a beauty that never could have sprung from other source than souls of purity, from minds of lofty aspiration. It is this beauty thus qualified that is Pompeii's gift to the world.

As to the floor of a Pompeian entrance room, it is imperatively mosaic. The mosaics of the ancient city are infinitely finer than those we are accustomed to use. Labour is cheap in Italy,-pitifully so, one thinks in looking on its abuse, - and there one might perhaps copy mosaics in their original fineness. But our larger squares will do as well, for they are on the same principle, a pattern picked out in tiny cubes. A plain sweep of solid colour for the centre of the room, and a geometric border in deeper tone or black is enough, if rugs or skins are to spread concealment upon the floor.

As the ancients allowed themselves the luxury of textiles to soften the asperity of hard surroundings, so also may we in emulation hang mellowing fabrics. When the ships of the Mediterranean brought rich embroideries and textiles from the East, the people of Pompeii prized them rarely, and made luxurious use of them. Therein lies a happy suggestion for ourselves.

To dismiss Pompeii with a sketchy summary of the salient points of its domiciles is like telling the whole philosophy of life in three letters. It is almost to run the risk of appearing flippant, impious from the artist's point of view. But the study of Pompeii is the study of a life, and our intent is only to make a home in which to live, and to be about it quickly.



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