The Themes, Design and Style of Roman Murals

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Depicting the Life of People

There are many prevalent themes recognized within murals of the Roman houses in Pompeii but the most common having to be realistic stills of peoples lives and landscapes that are captured and would be painted on every wall throughout whole villas. (As pictured above the Villa of the Mysteries, depicting life-sized figures performing acts of drinking blood from sacrificed beasts). The villas in Pompeii had no windows so Romans painted make-believe windows with elaborate views of dream vistas. Through the creation of this I believe it was a way to make their homes feel more welcoming and give the illusion that the rooms they had to appear larger then they actually are. The artistic style ranged from simple limitations of coloured marble to scenes of complex cityscapes. Artists mastered tricks of perspective showing that they could make mosaics look as complex as paintings and these tricks were unknown in the world of art; not until later after the surge of artistic styling throughout cultures.

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Colour and Design

In all descriptions of Roman buildings they used bold colours and designs. Designs could range from sophisticated details to high-end renderings that covered entire walls and ceilings. They could include portraits, scenes from mythology, and architecture with vast landscapes. All painted scenes on the walls were often sketched in outline first using red ochre; a natural clay. Murals were heavily influenced by Greek mythology which was a popular selection and especially those involving Dionysos; the Olympian god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness and wild frenzy. As a result decorative designs such as fruit, plant leaves, ribbons, large branched candlesticks, and theatre masks appeared as reoccurring themes within these murals.

Four Styles

There are four different styles to be considered and found within the murals of Roman houses in Pompeii. The First Style being the encrustation style, it can be recognised by the shiny stucco designing imitating marble lined walls and, it consists of a variety of colours inserted into the lower construct of the walls. The Second Style, also referred to as the architectural style creates the illusion from having exterior walls that are painted on through murals on the inside of walls. This extends to vast landscapes, and physical space that’s not actually there and becomes visually appealing to the eye. The Third Style does the polar opposite of the second style by discarding the use of space and architectural features. Painted columns are used often and stretched to frame larger figure paintings and landscapes are downsized to miniatures placed within a single coloured background. Lastly, the Fourth Style is considered to be ornamental often excessive because it uses the entire wall as a composition. Subjects were chosen often, and inspired by everyday life or news reports of important events. Also the Fourth Style was identified as a sign of wealth if it appeared within your household.


In conclusion I believe many themes can be found within the murals of the Roman houses in Pompeii because as stated before life like portraits and landscapes that created illusions of having vast space within the Roman homes were prevalent from the time period of these murals. Four different styles were used by various artists in Pompeii for the Romans homes, they created amazing visuals and designs for homeowners and guests throughout their villas.

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