Wall painting from Room H of the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale

Period: Late Republican

Date: ca. 50–40 B.C.

Culture: Roman

Medium: Fresco

Dimensions: Overall: 69 x 76in. (175.3 x 193cm)

Classification: Miscellaneous-Paintings

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1903

Accession Number: 03.14.6


This fresco panel from Boscoreale depicts a man and woman seated side by side. To the right is the heroic figure of a semi-nude man lounging on an elaborate, gilded chair. A dark-colored himation is loosely draped across his loins. Unfortunately, damage to the fresco has obliterated the upper part of the man's head, which was turned in profile toward the woman seated to his right. He rests his hands on a short gilded staff firmly set on the ground in front of him. Most likely this is a scepter, an ancient symbol of regal power that was also an attribute of Zeus, ruler of the Olympian gods. For Hellenistic dynasts, the scepter retained a strong meaning of justice. The late third-century B.C. philosopher Theophrastus advised that 'the true king should rule by the scepter and not the spear" (Peri basileias II).
To the left is a seated woman wearing a chiton and a himation that is drawn up over the back of her head. She rests her feet on a gilded footstool, and leans her chin on her hand in a gesture of reflection. Based on stylistic comparisons with other works of art, it has been suggested that the seated figures represent Achilles and his mother Thetis. For the spectator in antiquity, the woman's melancholy countenance and the gesture with her right hand may have been read as expressions of Thetis' concern or grief at the fate of her only son. More recently, however, it has been suggested that the woman represents the wife of the seated Hellenistic ruler to her left. As Roman aristocrats greatly admired Alexander the Great and the first generation of his successors, this seated ruler may be a dynast of the early Hellenistic period. The inclusion of this panel and the others that once adorned Room H of the villa at Boscoreale would have created a majestic interior that had particular relevance to political life in Rome during the time the villa was decorated, sometime between 60 and 30 B.C. This period in Roman history witnessed a series of great military rulers— Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar, and Marc Antony— all of whom were viewed as latter-day Alexanders who eventually would conquer the East for Rome.