We will first speak of the mural, or wall-paintings, as they are the most important and interesting remains of ancient painting. We shall only consider such as have been found in Italy, as those of other countries are few and unimportant.

The Etruscan tombs which have been opened contain many beautiful objects of various kinds, and were frequently decorated with mural pictures. They often consist of several rooms, and have the appearance of being prepared as a home for the living rather than for the dead. I shall give you no long or wordy description of them; because if what I tell you leads you to wish to know more about them, there are many excellent books describing them which you can read. So I will simply give you two cuts from these Etruscan paintings, and tell you about them.

Fig. 5 is in a tomb known as the Grotta della Querciola. The upper part represents a feast, and the lower portion a boar-hunt in a wood, which is indicated by the few trees and the little twigs which are intended to represent the underbrush of the forest. If we compare these pictures with the works of the best Italian masters, they seem very crude and almost childish in their simplicity; but, if we contrast them with the paintings of the Egyptians and Assyrians, we see that a great advance has been made since the earliest paintings of which we know were done. The pose and action of the figures and their grace of movement, as well as the folding of the draperies, are far better than anything earlier than the Greek painting of which there is any knowledge; for, as we have said, these Etruscan works are essentially Greek.

Fig 6 Fig. 6.—Human Sacrifice Offered by Achilles to the Shade of Patroklos.From an Etruscan wall-painting.

Fig. 6 belongs to a later period than the other, and is taken from a tomb at Vulci which was opened in 1857 by François. This tomb has seven different chambers, several of which are decorated with wall-paintings of mythological subjects. A square chamber at the end of the tomb has the most important pictures. On one side the human sacrifices which were customary at Etruscan funerals are represented: the pictures are very painful, and the terror and agony of the poor victims who are being put to death make them really repulsive to see. On an opposite wall is the painting from which our cut is taken. This represents the sacrifices made before Troy by Achilles, on account of the death of his dear friend Patroklos. The figure with the hammer is Charon, who stands ready to receive the sacrifice which is intended to win his favor. Your mythology will tell you the story, which is too long to be given here. The realism of this picture is shocking in its effect, and yet there is something about the manner of the drawing and the arrangement of the whole design that fixes our attention even while it makes us shudder.

The ancient wall-paintings which have been found in Rome are far more varied than are those of Etruria; for, while some of the Roman pictures are found in tombs, others are taken from baths, palaces, and villas. They generally belong to one period, and that is about the close of the Republic and the beginning of the Empire. Modern excavations have revealed many of these ancient paintings; but so many of them crumble and fade away so soon after they are exposed to the air, that few remain in a condition to afford any satisfaction in seeing them. But fortunately drawings have been made of nearly all these pictures before they fell into decay.

Fig 7 Fig. 7.—The Aldobrandini Marriage.
From a wall-painting in the Vatican.

Some of the ancient paintings have been carefully removed from the walls where they were found, and placed in museums and other collections. One of the finest of these is in the Vatican, and is called the Aldobrandini Marriage. It received this name from the fact that Cardinal Aldobrandini was its first possessor after its discovery, near the Arch of Gallienus, in 1606.

As you will see from Fig. 7, from it, there are three distinct groups represented. In the centre the bride veiled, with her head modestly bowed down, is seated on a couch with a woman beside her who seems to be arranging some part of her toilet, while another stands near holding ointment and a bowl. At the head of the couch the bridegroom is seated on a threshold. The upper part of his figure is bare, and he has a garland upon his head. On the right of the picture an ante-room is represented in which are three women with musical instruments, singing sacrificial songs. To the left, in another apartment, three other women are preparing a bath. This is charming on account of the sweet, serious way in which the whole story is placed before us; but as a painting it is an inferior work of art—not in the least above the style which we should call house decoration.