The Venus Marina, Pompeii

THE house of Decimus Lucretius Satrius Valens, an ambitious politician, was damaged by the earthquake of 62 and still under repair when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79. It was partly excavated 1933–35, damaged by one of the bombs of 1943, completely excavated in 1952 and has since been restored quite well. It is also known as the House of the Venus Marina (II,3,3), after a large fresco on the south wall of the peristyle showing the patron goddess of Pompeii in a shell, on the sea.

The fresco is about life sized and quite spectacular when viewed from a distance. It has been speculated that it is a copy of Apelles’ Aphrodite Anadyomene, about which Pliny writes in his Historia Naturalis (XXXV 36):

His Venus Rising from the Sea, known as the Venus Anadyomene, was consecrated by the late Emperor Augustus in the Temple of his father Cæsar; a work which has been celebrated in certain Greek lines, which, though they have outlived it, have perpetuated its fame. The lower part of the picture having become damaged, no one could be found to repair it; and thus did the very injury which the picture had sustained, redound to the glory of the artist. Time, however, and damp at last effaced the painting, and Nero, in his reign, had it replaced by a copy, painted by the hand of Dorotheus.

There seems to be no actual evidence supporting this theory, except that the painting was famous, had been brought to Rome, and Pompeians were obviously fond of copies of famous works of art. In any case it doesn’t matter much, since the painter wasn’t very good, just look what he did to the right leg of the poor goddess. A bad copy of a masterpiece is not very helpful.

John Hauser has the best photograph of the whole peristyle that I’ve found. Robin Rowland took a photograph in 1976, before the roof over the fresco was restored. Some more photographs are on Hellenica, more about the Venus Anadyomene motif as such.

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