The Greek and Roman Galleries at the Met just reopened here in New York, and it's my express wish that every single reader of this column visit them posthaste. I was captivated in particular by the frescoes from a villa at Boscoreale, and found myself recalling past epiphanies on color, architecture and decorative painting from my travels abroad. I didn't think there was anything like this in the States...
I'll confess to loving antique frescoes more than almost any other art form, for their ability to combine narrative and ornament within a fixed architectural environment. There are different periods of Roman painting, which utilize different colors and palettes, and I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to look at a specific red that pervades these frescoes excavated near Pompeii.
This color makes me want to repaint my entire apartment. Vitruvius informs us that Roman artists made their red pigments from cinnabar or red ochre, and my Schmincke Mussini catalogue of oil paint says that vermilion (originally made from cinnabar) produces a bright red that is bluer than scarlet, yellower than carmine. I feel like there are actually several variations of Pompeian red, but they all tend to run brown or orange, never blue. Another outstanding example of this is the Villa of Mysteries in Pompeii, which is worth the price of plane fare alone.
In ancient times, color was associated with wealth; I associate it with personality. I think a color like this would look fantastic in a dining room, living room or foyer and would make a sensational impression upon friends and family. I'd probably like it less in a bedroom or bath.
Benjamin Moore's Color Preview deck provides a variety of brilliant reds but plan accordingly—the base is transparent and they can require several coats of paint and a tinted primer.
As an aside, if anyone is interested in a room decorated in Pompeian motif, let me know! That's what I do when I'm not writing for AT. Special thanks to Scott Chamberlain for research assistance.
- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter