The discoveries made at Pompeii and Herculaneum, in addition to having a major influence on painting also played a major role in shaping Neoclassical design. In many ways this had an even more pervasive effect upon contemporary attitudes to ancient Roman wall-painting. Virtually every designed object from a palatial house to a mass-produced teaspoon was created in the Neoclassical style. Even new technological inventions such as the typewriter were given neoclassical attributes (fig.1). Europe’s colonies also imported and made Neoclassical style objects. Virtually every government edifice from totalitarian to democratic and republican to monarchist, came to adopt the Neoclassical style, resulting in cities as far apart as Philadelphia and Sydney, St Petersburg and Shanghai all sharing a common visual language. The extent to which Pompeii and Herculaneum fed this new cultural phenomenon cannot be overstated.

In late eighteenth-century England manufactures such as Wedgwood were quick to satisfy the growing taste for all things Neoclassical by mass-producing artefacts based upon wall-paintings and stucco relief work from Pompeii, Herculaneum and Rome (figs.2&3). Chippendale lead the way in furniture and the mass-produced furniture market soon followed. Most of the early Neoclassical designs were an indiscriminate mixture of Etruscan, Roman, Pompeian and Greek motifs and the names given to these styles were also highly misleading, with Pompeian motifs being referred to as Etruscan and vice versa. James ‘Athenian’ Stuart (1713-88) who visited Pompeii in 1754 was one of the first to create interiors based upon ‘classical’ sources. His hybrid designs were manly derived from Etruscan, Pompeian and Greek artefacts, which he then liberally infused with motifs taken from Raphael’s Roman style decorative wall-paintings in the Vatican. The designs he produced for Spencer House in London in 1759 are generally regarded as the first of their kind in northern Europe (fig.4).

As increasing numbers of Pompeian wall-paintings influenced the emerging Neoclassical style, Pompeii became exclusively associated with Neoclassical interiors. At the same time British architects such as Robert Adam (1728-1792) followed by Sir John Soane (1753-1837) used motifs from the newly excavated Campanian sites to soften the ‘classical’ austerity associated with Palladianism, the then dominant architectural style. In so doing they also unwittingly accelerated the process by which Pompeian domestically located wall-painting became depaganised and turned into a decorative interior design style (figs.6&7). One of the most comprehensive Pompeian interior design schemes was produced by Joseph Bonomi (1739-1808) in 1782, for the Earl of Aylesford at Packington Hall in Warwickshire.

The Neoclassicising of Pompeii
typewriter 1
Wedgewood 2
James Athenian Stuart 4
Roman stucco 3
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