In many cases large-scale architectural wall-painting, coordinated across all four walls of a room, created virtual realities that may well have encouraged a pre-cinematic willing suspension of disbelief, in favour of a theatre-like experience. The real and depicted ancestral death masks (imagines) and the rituals associated with them, such as night-time burial processions lit by flickering torches, would have added yet another layer of theatricality, further augmented by numerous depictions of theatre-like masks placed at points of architectural intersection, as if performing an apotropaic function such as wording of the 'evil eye' (fig.1).

The abundance of mythological and religious themes visualised within the house would have encouraged a complex range of emotions including piety, filial devotion and sexual desire. The primary format for encouraging these emotions was the extensive use of wall-paintings and architectural features such as lararia, all of which encouraged the inhabitants and visitors to engage with the fabric of the house as both a physical and metaphysical space - precisely the type of space that we sometimes equate with the theatre (figs.2).

Roman Theatres

The remains of numerous Graeco-Roman and purely Roman stone theatres throughout the Roman Empire are a testament to the theatre's civic and social importance. Purely Roman stone theatres postdate much Second Style wall-painting and therefore could not have acted as a visual model. However, Greek stone theatres existed in the magna graecia region, where much of the surviving wall-paintings have been found. Despite this ambiguity, permanent and temporary stage facades, now commonly referred to as scaenae frons, are often cited as having impacted on the development of domestic wall-painting (fig.3).

The House as Theatre
Augustus 1
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1 Room of the Masks - Casa di Augusto, Palatino, Roma.
Masks such as the one depicted in this wall-painting may well have been placed at points of architectural intersection or at entrances in order to perform an apotropaic (protective) function