John Mcewen com­ments on The Sev­enth Scene

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting Michael Hulls -

In Greek mythol­ogy, Diony­sus— also called Bac­chus—rep­re­sented the in­tox­i­cat­ing power of na­ture. As the first cul­ti­va­tor of the vine, he was god of wine, giver of joy, dis­perser of sor­row and orac­u­lar healer.

Pom­peii’s love of wine and bac­cha­nals is in­di­cated by the sanc­tu­ary built to Bac­chus/diony­sus in the 3rd cen­tury

In 186bc, the Ro­man Se­nate tried to ex­tin­guish the Bac­chus cult, with its Greek ori­gins and or­gias­tic as­so­ci­a­tions, but the per­se­cu­tion seems not to have reached Pom­peii.

The Villa of Mys­ter­ies, a lav­ishly ap­pointed coun­try house and prob­a­bly work­ing farm, was about a quar­ter of a mile north of Pom­peii. The town and neigh­bour­ing Her­cu­la­neum were buried by the fall­out af­ter the erup­tion of Mount Ve­su­vius, five miles away, in Pom­peii was re­dis­cov­ered in 1748, the villa in 1909. It cov­ered about 40,000sq ft and had at least 60 rooms.

The owner’s busi­ness was prob­a­bly wine. This is par­tic­u­larly sug­gested by the mys­te­ri­ous mega­lo­graphia (pic­to­rial cy­cle of life-sized fig­ures), unique in Pom­peii, which dec­o­rated the sup­posed din­ing room, hence the Villa of ‘Mys­ter­ies’. There are 10 scenes, thought se­quen­tially to show the ini­ti­a­tion of a woman/bride into the cult of Diony­sus, the prin­ci­pal fig­ure in scene six. Scene seven shows the rite’s com­ple­tion.

The kneel­ing ini­ti­ate has been whipped and is con­soled by Bac­cha­ntes (mae­nads in an­cient Greece), fe­male fol­low­ers of Bac­chus/diony­sus. One holds a thyr­sus, a cer­e­mo­nial pre­sen­ta­tion stick tipped with a pinecone. The dancer ec­stat­i­cally clashes cym­bals. The fresco has been ex­ten­sively re­stored, but re­mains ‘a stun­ning ex­am­ple of “sat­u­ra­tion view­ing”’ (Mary Beard).

The Sev­enth Scene, Villa dei Mis­terei (the Villa of Mys­ter­ies), about 50bc, 7ft by 7ft, Pom­peii, Italy

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