Period: Late Republican
Date: ca. 50–40 B.C.
Dimensions: Overall: 73 1/2 x 73 1/2in. (186.7 x 186.7cm)
Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1903
Accession Number: 03.14.5
This painting of a seated woman playing a kithara is from Room H, either a dining room (triclinium) or a room for social gatherings (oecus), in the villa at Boscoreale. Each of the paintings that originally adorned this room derives from the Greek tradition of megalographia, or large-scale painting, about which so much was written in antiquity; Apollinaris of Sidonius, Petronius in the Satyricon, and Vitruvius all shed light on the use of megalographia in Roman villas.
In this fresco, the kithara player is depicted as a plump young woman clothed in a purple chiton and white himation. She is adorned with a bracelet, earrings, and headband with a central medallion, all of gold. A small figure of Atlas supports the arm of her elaborately carved chair that originally was lacquered a deep lustrous red. The instrument she plays is not a simple lyre, but a gilded kithara, a large concert instrument played by Apollo and professional musicians. Behind the seated woman stands a small girl wearing a sleeveless purple chiton. She, too, is adorned with a gold headband, bracelet, and loop earrings. Like portrait figures, the woman and the girl gaze directly at the spectator.
Most recently it has been suggested that the pair may represent a Macedonian queen, or princess, and her daughter or younger sister. The gilded kithara and richly adorned, thronelike chair, as well as the carefully rendered gold jewelry and headbands, give the impression of royal personage. Whatever the exact subject, this painting and others in the villa were admired as excellent copies of Hellenistic art that emphasized the erudition and worldliness of the villa's owner.