House of the Vettii  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The "House of the Vettii" is domus or villa in Pompeii, one of its luxurious residences. It was preserved, like the rest of the Roman city, by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. The house is named for its owners, two successful freedmen: Aulus Vettius Conviva, an Augustalis, and Aulus Vettius Restitutus. Its careful excavation has preserved almost all of the wall frescos, which were completed following the earthquake of 62 AD, in the manner art historians term the "Pompeiian Fourth Style."

Frescoes include Prapius weighs his phallus, baby Hercules and the serpents, Pentheus being torn limb from limb by the Bacchantes and Daedalus showing Pasiphae the wooden bull.

One of the most famous images of Priapus is that from the House of the Vettii in Pompeii; it is a wall fresco in which Priapus is weighing his phallus against a bag full of money and it appears that his phallus is heavier.

The House of the Vettii was not one of the eighteenth-century discoveries, which were plundered for their museum-worthy objects. It was excavated between September 1894 and January 1896. There is evidence that the house was disturbed, perhaps looted, shortly after the eruption.



The House of the Vettii is located on a back street, opposite a bar. The house is built round two centers open to the sky, a dim atrium into which a visitor would pass, coming from a small dark vestibule that led from the street entrance, and beyond— perpendicular to the entrance axis— a daylit peristyle of fluted Doric columns surrounded on all sides by a richly frescoed portico, with the more formal spaces opening onto it. Servants' quarters are to one side off the atrium, ranged round a small atrium of their own. The major fresco decorations enliven the peristyle and its living spaces (oeci) and the triclinium or dining hall.


Throughout the house, the decor is unified by the black backgrounds of its large frescoed panels, in "Pompeiian" red and yellow framing, with fanciful architectural surrounds.


Priapus (House of the Vettii)

One of the most famous images of Priapus[1] is that from the entrance foyer of the House of the Vettii in Pompeii; it is a wall fresco of an almost life-size Priapus who weighs his erection which protrudes from beneath his tunic against a bag overflowing with coins in a set of scales that he holds. It appears that his phallus is heavier than the coins.


Throughout the house were images of hermaphrodites with the intention to ward off the Evil Eye of envy from those who entered the home.

Putti and infant

In one oecus, a frieze at sitting height, in monochrome against black grounds, show putti and infant psyches engaged in various trades, wine-making, goldsmithing, perfume-pressing and similar occupations. The most richly-decorated room is a virtual picture gallery, with trompe l'oeil views of architecture.


The peristyle was laid out symmetrically for an elaborate water display (Allison). It had basins and fountains where carved heads spat water into basins, and other sculpture, both marble ones of Bacchus and satyrs and Paris carrying a lamb and three bronzes of cupids, each holding a goose and a bunch of grapes. The statues were connected to lead piping and spouted water. There are 14 jets of water.

See also

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