Either as they were… or as they ought to be.
Materializing Virtual Architecture in Antiquity.
Lecture by Fabio Barry
Assistant Professor, Art & Art History, Stanford University
Although Pliny described marble revetment as “painting in stone,” the origin of lithic painting can be traced back to the invention of buon fresco on Crete, c. 2000 BC. Earth pigments bonded with lime plaster to become an amalgam as inherently colored as any natural stone, and this invention belonged to a wider material culture of Bronze Age synthesis (glass, faience, etc.) that allowed artisans not only to emulate nature but improve upon it. Moreover, when fresco was figured the images remained in (not on) an undulating wall that was as plastic as it was pictorial. Consequently, the frescoed room in the house and the palace confronted the viewer a material reality of its own making. The Cretans disseminated fresco to Egypt, to the Near East, and eventually to the Homeric palaces of Mycenaean Greece, where they created whole lithic environments of “magic realism.” By the fifth century BC marbleized stucco spread over the walls of houses and public buildings of Greece, and eventually Republican Rome and its satellites. The “marbleized” wall represented not marble revetments (which did not yet exist) but make-believe polychrome ashlar (also a complete fiction). They are therefore “simulacra,” copies without an original, images not of what were but what could be. It is within this context that the absent marble appears in all its painterly potential, even to the point of birthing “chance” images. Finally, while the perspectivism of “Second Style” painting (c. 80 BC) apparently spells the demise of such (“First Style”) building in fresco in favor of optics, its illusions are actually the product of objectivizing the marble medium within the wall but viewed from without.