Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pompeii No.5: Painting the Columns

This week I'm painting the columns of the Pompeii Room. My versions are squared and would have four or maybe three sides in reality, so they would more properly be called pilasters.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Spring 2010   |
The Pompeians often decorated with an unusual form of column that had, for lack of a better way to describe them, square plugs. I've been looking for the origin and meaning of such columns, and have yet to discover any information that would help to illuminate. Perhaps one of my clever readers can fill in the blanks. At any rate, I've looked at this element and decided that adding it to my own room would lend a distinctly Pompeian air.

On the left is a fragment from the villa of Publius Fannius Synistor (it can be viewed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), and on the right is a fragment of the South Porch of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It's the work of the brilliant muralist, Garth Benton.

Some of the folks who have seen the room at this early stage are interpreting the auburn color as a brown, but it is in fact a deep purple. The shadows that are falling from the "plugs" — just as they do in Mr. Synistor's house — are that very same auburn with white paint added. They become a lovely mauve.

My choice is to not show the sides of the pilasters, and all the extra plug shapes, because so much more is going to happen within those auburn panels. (Sometimes in art the suggestion of something is sufficient, and besides, I can take a little artistic license here.)

I have, however, added dimension to the frieze. It would look strangely flat without that lip, and who knows, I might want to hang some Pompeian goodies from it a little later.

Since my last posting, I've installed track lighting on the ceiling. The lights are not necessarily a final solution, but for the time being they'll help me focus wherever I'm painting at the moment.

click to enlarge
Here's the Pompeii Room as it looks today. In my next posting, I'll add capitals to the columns, a look that would make P. Fannius Synistor feel right at home.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pompeii No.4: Painting Around The Window

In my last posting, I shared the Pompeii Room's color scheme with you. If it were possible to remove the roof from the house and look down into the room, it would look like the image below.

"A" leads to a hallway and the griffin overdoor I posted about on February 24th, "B" leads to my kitchen, and "C" is a window that looks out into my back yard. I'll paint the areas that are colored tan to look like masonry, and that way I think the doorways will make more sense to the rest of the mural.

As I walk through my front door, I face the window, and so I thought it would be important to tackle that rear wall first. There's a 9½" space above the window, and that could make a window frame look a little top-heavy. But the space is also perfect for a torus.

A torus is simply a rounded moulding, but it is most often associated with this design, which is an oak torus.

I'm painting the torus in a rather loose way because I want to give a little momentum to the project. I'll come back later and define those leaves and acorns better, and darken the shadows. I'll also come back at the end of the project and put colorful marble in the plaque, and an inscription. For now, anyway, the window is presentable.

As this photograph was taken, I was repairing a little water damage to the ceiling, so it wasn't painted blue yet. The window also boasts venetian blinds that detract from the illusion of Pompeii, so until I come up with an appropriate window treatment, I'll PhotoShop-mask the window in gray.

Speaking of PhotoShop, the computer is an important tool in the whole process, and in ways that the casual observer would never guess. For example, the ceiling rises approximately ¼" on the right, meaning that my oak torus would have a disturbing gap above it on one side.

However, in PhotoShop I can skew the whole design just a tad so that the torus will  fill and correct the space in an imperceptible way (unlike the exaggerated example above) .

The window frame itself is looking three-dimensional, less for the rendering of stonework than for the shadowing, which gives the appearance of the shadow changing according to the different colors "underneath."

Since my last posting, I've also painted the baseboards a gray that complements both the carpeting and the Greek key. I talked about that Greek key in an early blog posting, here. The design comes from an Irish castle, and I hand-painted it throughout much of my house. That required many hours lying down on the job, with a curious pet rabbit nearby, wondering what I could possibly be doing!

Here's the Pompeii Room as it looks today. As you can see, the ceiling is now all blue, and I'm pleased with the progress of the window wall. Now I can concentrate on blocking in the rest of the base colors.

Next week I'll be painting the columns and the frieze that connects them. The columns, which are very particular to Pompeian design, might be unlike any you've seen before!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pompeii No.3: Starting To Paint
As I looked at images of Pompeian-style rooms, I wanted to pick authentic colors that went beyond the typical Pompeian red and black. I also wanted a painted wainscoting, and I spent a lot of time studying the room pictured below.

Karl Friedrich Schinkel  |  Bergdoll  |  Rizzoli  |  photograph by Erich Lessing
I like that deep red color and how it's combined with green, and I like the illusion of panels on the wainscoting. You might be wondering which monarch occupied this room. It was designed between 1829 and 1833 by the great German architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, and it was actually part of the Court Gardener's House, in Prussia.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin   |   Spring 2010
The colors that I finally settled on are a nod to the Pompeian villa of P. Fannius Synistor. This particular panel can now be viewed in the Louvre. Part of my attraction to this image is the paneling delineated by fine lines of highlighting and shadow. a typical Pompeian style. I'll definitely incorporate that look.

My colors are Sherwin Williams Paints, and they break down as follows:

  • Vast Sky (for the top of the mural and ceiling)
  • Insightful Rose (for architectural elements)
  • Arresting Auburn (for the top of panels)
  • Alaea (for the bottom of panels)
  • Butternut (as the base color for golden ornamentation)
  • Lounge Green (for the top border of the wainscoting)
  • Ablaze (for the wainscoting)
The colors will be combined to look like the simplified layout below. Of course there will be many layers of decoration overlaying this scheme!

I began by determining the top edge of the wainscoting, and I drew that line with a level. Experience has taught me the hard way not to measure up from the floor, or down from the ceiling. By establishing a level line and working from that, [almost] everything will be nicely squared.

My living room has two walls of bookcases with cabinets beneath, so it makes sense to have the top edge of the wainscoting be level with the top of the cabinets.

As you can see, there is some texture to the wall, but it is regular enough so that I didn't feel the need to resurface the wall. (The walls of Pompeian murals, however, were very smooth.)

I'll have you know I painted those lines by hand! For a long time I've had an aversion to taping because the paint always seemed to bleed, or I'd pull up the paint that was already down. But after painting that green line, I realized that not using tape was an exercise in madness.

It pays to ask experts for advice, and I was directed to this green Frog Tape, which is made especially for taping rougher surfaces like stucco, concrete and brick. The only thing I did that isn't covered in the instructions was to burnish about 1/8" along the very edge of the tape. It's been working like a charm.

Here's a slightly blurred photo of the room at the very beginning of the project. Not to worry, I'll be showing lots of clear details as we go along.

That white baseboard doesn't look good sandwiched between the red paint and the gray carpeting, does it? If I paint it a slightly darker gray, it should look nicely tailored.

In my next posting, I'll concentrate on painting around that window. I have an idea for it that's been tucked away in my memory banks for a long time.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Pompeii No.2: Rooms That Inspire

Ca'Toga   |   Carlo Marchiori   |   Ten Speed Press
In this posting, I'm going to share images of several rooms that have been an inspiration for the creation of my Pompeian dining room.

Carlo Marchiori's Pompeian room at Ca'Toga (above) is a masterpiece of Pompeian imagery. Not only is it a technical tour de force, but it shows his complete immersion in the history and symbolism of Pompeian times. The bright reds and stark blacks that we've come to associate with Pompeii can be found in many villas there, most notably in the Villa of the Mysteries.

Alan Dodd   |   Grand Illusions   |   Phaidon
Long before I discovered Carlo Marchiori, I was inspired by this cool, elegant Greek room. It was painted by Alan Dodd in the early 1980s. I think the combination of creamy colors with that pastel green is a large part of its attraction, and note that the wainscoting is a subtle complementary green.

Pompeii   |   Coarelli   |   Riverside
In fact, what I think of as a painted wainscoting is a Pompeian design element that I want to incorporate into my own room. Above is an image from the House of the Vettii, in Pompeii. What a gorgeous color scheme!

Antiques in Italian Interiors   |   Roberto Valeriani, Mario Ciampi   |   Verbavolant
This room from Palazzo Milzetti, Fainza, Italy, is a little too busy for my taste, but I am inspired by in awe of the detailing.

Antiques in Italian Interiors   |   Roberto Valeriani, Mario Ciampi   |   Verbavolant
A close inspection (I got out my magnifying glass) reveals an artist who was so familiar with anatomy and other natural forms that his work appears to be akin to effortless sketching.

Neoclassicism in the North   |   Håkan Groth, Fritz von der Schulenburg   |   Rizzoli
I would be very happy to inhabit this 1790s room, which was an inner salon belonging to Prince Fredrik Adolf of Sweden. But while I appreciate it's delicate refinement, I'm looking for a bigger color statement.

Neoclassicism in the North   |   Håkan Groth, Fritz von der Schulenburg   |   Rizzoli
This gorgeous room also belonged to Prince Fredrik Adolf, though in a different castle. The late Duke of Devonshire had similar decoration in his private study at Chatsworth. It was his favorite room there, in part because it was also the smallest!

Antiques in Italian Interiors | Roberto Valeriani, Mario Ciampi | Verbavolant
This room is not Pompeian, but the fantastic architectural construction has some of the feel of Pompeian mural decoration. It's from the Villa Godi (1537), one of Andrea Palladio's fist architectural designs. Appropriately, the figure sitting in the alcove is reputed to be the young Palladio.

Neoclassicism in the North   |   Håkan Groth, Fritz von der Schulenburg   |   Rizzoli
The Grand Salon belonging to King Gustaf III of Sweden is considered by many to be the finest Pompeian-style room in Europe.
In the United States, one of the finest Pompeian rooms is the private meeting room of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It was painted in the 1850s by Constantino Brumidi, who was the artist also responsible for the decoration inside the Capitol dome.

Those are some of the many rooms I studied to draw inspiration for my own Pompeian room. In my next posting, I'll begin painting, but this would be a good time to pause and clarify two thoughts that are bound to cross your mind as you watch the progress of my room:


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Pompeii No.1: How It Came To Be

I live in a small house with a dining room merely 10x7½ feet. When I bought the house, the last owner's rather large dining table was still there, and it seemed to me as if it would almost be easier to walk across the table than around it! And because I prefer to dine out anyway, I kept the space bare, using it as a walk-through and calling it "The Great Hall."

There would be those days, though, when I'd have supper off a TV table in the living room, and ponder the empty space. It wasn't as starkly bare as it looks above — I had an antique chest of drawers against that yellow wall, and over it, a handsome collection of framed lithographs. But I'd look at the room and think, "I really should do something more creative with that space!"

Then one birthday, my friends Sandy and Greg gave me an inspiring book, Ca'Toga, by Carlo Marchiori. Marchiori is an amazing decorative artist who found great success as a muralist. He built a splendid house in the Napa Valley, and created a magical world within it.

Carlo Marchiori's living room
How's this for a living room?!

I was greatly inspired by Carlo Marchiori, not just because he's an incredibly accomplished artist, but because he also has a bold vision.

His book got me to thinking about the possibility of painting a mural in my dining room. That in itself was a bold vision for me because I usually paint on a small scale; I could easily have been the fellow painting portraits on ivory or designing bank notes.

You may have noticed that when you have a good idea — or discover something excitingly new — the Universe has a way of conspiring to remind you of it at every turn. As I pondered the possibility of a mural, my New York friend Yvonne sent me a bulletin from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was on the great Andrea Mantegna, who ranks as my favorite Renaissance artist.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin   |   Fall 2009
Mantegna is probably best remembered for creating (some time between 1465 and 1474) one of the earliest trompe l'oeil masterpieces, a painted oculus for the palace of Ludovico Gonzaga of Mantua.

click to enlarge   |   Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin   |   Fall 2009
Here's a detail view of Ludovico Gonzaga's family and court, from a wall of the same room. Mantegna was so well respected for his work that the Gonzaga granted him armorial bearings.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin   |   Fall 2009
I am especially enamored of a series of paintings Mantegna painted entitled, The Triumphs of Caesar. They were acquired from the Gonzaga by Charles I of England and now reside at Hampton Court. Like the others of the series, this painting measures approximately 9x9 feet.

No sooner had I digested the bulletin on Mantegna than Yvonne sent another Metropolitan Bulletin, this one on Pompeii.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has done a wonderful favor to lovers of Antiquity by taking Pompeian frescoes that have been scattered to museums all over the world and reuniting them in virtual rooms.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin   |   Spring 2010

Those rooms still sing out in rich and amazingly vibrant color. I look at rooms like this and find it funny that despite all our technology and sophistication, so many of us timidly cling to white and beige walls. I say, don't be afraid to experiment with color — after all ... it's only paint!!

Then I had an epiphany! As I studied all those great Pompeian frescoes, I recognized that so many of them were divided by columns into panels. And I realized that if I divided my dining room into panels in the same manner, no matter how much time I spent on the mural —or how many breaks I took from it — the mural would look finished at every stage! In my mind, I was halfway finished before I had begun!

So Pompeii it would be!

Now before we get started, I want to share some great rooms with you in the next posting, rooms that have inspired me. Some are Pompeian, some have descended from Pompeian style, and some are more generically Neoclassic. When you see them, you'll have a hint of what I had in mind.