False-Doors in Domestic Roman Architecture

Maurice Owen

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Published conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


    This paper proposes that the archaeology of death is not only confined to tombs and mausolea, but that Roman domestic architecture also engaged in a discourse between the living and the dead via in-house wall-paintings. Since their large scale discovery in the mid-eighteenth century, the wall-paintings have been thought of as performing a purely decorative or ornamental function, within a shifting social context. In the late 1960s, the Roman scholar Gilbert Picard proposed, but did not substantiate, a radically different approach to interpreting Romano-Campanian wall-painting, which he based on the numerous examples of pictorial doors and gated entrances featured in the paintings. He proposed that they performed a similar function to much earlier false-doors found in Egyptian and Etruscan tombs. In contrast to these earlier examples, Roman false-doors are contextualised by means of sophisticated perspectival compositions, which have the potential to reconfigure domestic space into emotionally charged metaphysical domains. In these paintings both real and virtual space seamlessly interact and this encourages the viewer to emotionally engage with the virtual world beyond the picture plane. Once the belief in this virtual world is established the painting's true fetish identity is revealed through the iconic references that surround the faux entrances. It is no longer just a pictorial representation of an entrance, but a staged backdrop against which the protagonists (the Romano-Campanian household) acted out their daily lives, both mundane and ritualised.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationPapers in Italian Archaeology VII - The Archaeology of Death
    Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the Seventh Conference of Italian Archaeology held at the National University of Ireland, Galway, April 16-18, 2016
    EditorsEdward Herring, Eóin O'Donoghue
    Place of PublicationOxford
    PublisherArchaeopress Archaeology
    ChapterRoman Italy
    Number of pages8
    ISBN (Electronic)978 1 78491 (e-Pdf)
    ISBN (Print)978 1 78491
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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