In Italy, French archaeologists have made an extraordinary discovery. A few weeks ago they entered a tomb dating from the second century BC. Inside, ornate walls and remarkably well-preserved paintings depict a banquet scene.
De Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli... Italy is one of the richest cradles when it comes to the pictorial art of the Renaissance. This breeding ground for artists seems to have its origins well before its fifteenth century climax. Two hundred years before our era, ‘Dante’s land’ had already seen the birth of one of the earliest works of its secular history... A recent discovery by French archaeologists testifies to this.
Since 2001 in Cumes, an ancient city 15 miles west of Naples, an ambitious excavation campaign led by Priscilla Munzi, researcher at the Jean Bérard Center (French National Centre for Scientific Research / French School of Rome) and Jean-Pierre Brun, professor at the Collège de France, have brought to light many archaeological treasures, as explained in a statement published by the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS):
‘For some years now, French researchers have been particularly interested in an area where a Greek sanctuary, roads and a necropolis can all be found. Among the hundreds of ancient burial sites excavated since 2001, a series of vaulted tombs built from tufa have been uncovered, which is a local volcanic rock. [...] Inside, the space consists of a room with, generally, three chests or funeral beds, [dated] 2nd century BC and indicating the high social level of the inhumed.’
A tomb among many others, and yet…
Among these tombs, which are generally adorned with simple two-tone red and white paintings, the archaeologists were surprised to discover last June a burial site decorated more elaborately than that of its neighbours. ‘A tomb with an exceptional figurative decoration,’ describe the researchers who published several photos of the walls of the tomb.
This is just a brief overview augmented by a detailed presentation of the premises. ‘The wall at the entrance shows, to the right of the door, a servant standing naked, holding in his hands a jug made of silver metal and a vase for wine. On his left, a crater (vase) is on its stand. To the left of the door, a situla (container) made of silver metal, a wooden table and a wine amphora are placed on a tripod. On the side walls, there are probably landscapes scenes.'
A beautifully preserved work
The exceptional accuracy of this description is primarily due to the quality of conservation of the pigments and coatings on the walls of the tomb. The decorative elements are surprisingly well preserved, but the subject treated is also very surprising. ‘Such a setting is rare for a tomb of this period, the theme is a bit “old-fashioned” since it was in vogue one or two centuries earlier,’ say the archaeologists.
In addition to the interest and archaeological questions it raises, this discovery first and foremost brings new light to the artistic evolution of the ancient city of Cumae, considered by ancient historians as the oldest Greek colony established in the West. It was founded during the second half of the eighth century BCE.
This exceptional archaeological treasure has now attracted great attention, and should reveal other secrets thanks to the future work planned by the scientists. ‘In order to preserve the fresco, the archaeologists have removed it as well as the fragments found on the ground in order to try and reconstruct the scene, like a puzzle,’ the statement said. A ‘puzzle’ of major historical but also artistic interest, which Da Vinci, Michelangelo, or even Botticelli could probably have been influenced by.