House of the Vettii

A Victorian rendering of paintings in the Ixion room

In Pompeii one of the most famous of the luxurious residences (domus) is the so-called House of the Vettii, preserved like the rest of the Roman city by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The house is named for its owners, two successful freedmen: Aulus Vettius Conviva, an Augustalis, and Aulus Vettius Restitutus.[1] Its careful excavation[2] has preserved almost all of the wall frescos, which were completed following the earthquake of 62 AD, in the manner art historians term the "Pompeiian Fourth Style."


Reconstruction of the peristyle (without fresco decor), made for an exhibition in the Boboli Gardens, 2007

The House of the Vettii is located on a back street, opposite a bar. The house is built round two compluviums, centers open to the sky, a dim atrium into which a visitor would pass, coming from a small dark vestibule that led from the street entrance,[3] and beyond—perpendicular to the entrance axis—a daylit peristyle of fluted Doric columns surrounded on all sides by a richly frescoed portico, with the more formal spaces opening onto it. Servants' quarters are to one side off the atrium, arranged round a small atrium of their own. The major fresco decorations enliven the peristyle and its living spaces (oeci) and the triclinium or dining hall. The house had approximately 30 rooms. Stairways throughout the structure indicate that there was an upper level, however as with most Pompeian houses this was either destroyed in the eruption that destroyed the city, or decayed after it was left sticking above the ash that protected the ground floor. Most artifacts found from upper level rooms were toiletry items and jewelry, consistent with artifacts found in other Pompeian houses.

In the entrance foyer the prosperous and almost life-size image of Priapus weighs his erection which protrudes from beneath his tunic against a bag overflowing with coins in a set of scales that he holds. (This image discombobulates some viewers.[4]) Throughout the house, the decor is unified by the black backgrounds of its large frescoed panels, in "Pompeiian" red and yellow framing, with fanciful architectural surrounds. Also throughout the house were images of hermaphrodites with the intention to ward off the Evil Eye of envy from those who entered the home. In one oecus, a frieze at sitting height, in monochrome against black grounds, show putti and infant psyches engaged in various trades, wine-making, goldsmithing or minting coins, perfume-pressing and similar occupations. The most richly-decorated room is a virtual picture gallery, with trompe l'oeil views of architecture.

Mural of a flying figure in the House of the Vettii. Photograph taken circa 1900, before modern restoration.

The peristyle was laid out symmetrically for an elaborate water display. It had basins and fountains where carved heads spat water into basins, and other sculpture, both marble ones of Bacchus and satyrs and Paris carrying a lamb[5] and three bronzes of cupids, each holding a goose and a bunch of grapes. The statues were connected to lead piping and spouted water. There are 14 jets of water.


  1. Their identity was preserved in campaign-slogan graffiti on the street front of the house. Two inscribed signet rings were also found.
  2. The House of the Vettii was not one of the eighteenth-century discoveries, which were rifled for their museum-worthy objects. It was excavated between September 1894 and January 1896. There is evidence that the house was disturbed, perhaps looted, shortly after the eruption.
  3. Around the corner there is a second entrance, which led to a shop that communicated with the rest of the house through a narrow passage.
  4. Rowland, Ingrid D. (2014). From Pompeii : The Afterlife of a Roman Town. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  5. This subject is often identified as a Christ


See also

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to House of the Vettii (Pompeii).

Rowland, Ingrid D. (2014). From Pompeii : The Afterlife of a Roman Town. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Coordinates: 40°45′07″N 14°29′04″E / 40.7520833333°N 14.4845833333°E / 40.7520833333; 14.4845833333

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