Perceptions of Technical Culture among Pompeian Élites, considering the Cupids Frieze of the Casa dei Vettii

Abstract : As soon as its excavation was over, the house “of the Vettii” in Pompeii amazed archaeologists and art historians for the quality of its paintings. Beyond chronological problems, comments particularly arose out the observation of a frieze notably representing Cupids and Psychai at work. Having openly or not in mind Petronius’ Satiricon and his outrageous caricature of enriched freedmen on one side, and the alleged incompatibility between ‘traditional’ elites and urban production on the other side, most commentators linked the choice of such a theme to decorate a reception room with the supposed social status of the owners. A milestone in this process has been M. Rostovtzeff’s attempt to define the owner’s economic investment through the frieze observation. Since then, if the link between the frieze and economic implication is less stressed, only a few analyses avoid considering the owners as freedmen, thus in the shadow of Trimalcio. In parallel, part of the Cupids was also subject of investigation in order to try to determine their supposedly precise productive activities or was used as a realistic illustration of production processes as fulling or perfume-making. This paper aims at reconsidering the frieze in its functional context, in a room mainly designed to accommodate feasts, in order to propose a new reading, without any hypothetical social inference. A careful analysis of the Cupids' activity, compared with what can be known of the involved production processes, permits to discard any idea of realistic representation. Instead, from this modern understanding, it is possible to establish the links between the occupants of the house, the painters' workshop and the guests. The productive scenes, adapted, embedded and intermixed with traditional banquet and Greek culture themes, point towards the definition of a shared technical culture amongst elites.
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Nicolas Monteix. Perceptions of Technical Culture among Pompeian Élites, considering the Cupids Frieze of the Casa dei Vettii. Kerstin Droß-Krüpe; Sabine Föllinger; Kai Ruffing. Antike Wirtschaft und ihre kulturelle Prägung (2000 v.Chr. – 500 n.Chr.) – The cultural shaping of the Ancient economy, Harrasowitz Verlag, pp.199-221, 2016, Philippika, 9783447106740. ⟨https://www.harrassowitz-verlag.de/title_673.ahtml⟩. ⟨halshs-01447304⟩

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