Wall Fragment with a Peacock
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Roman, about A.D. 70
Plaster and pigment
H: 15 3/4 x W: 9 3/4 x D: 1 1/4 in.

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Native to India, peacocks were imported into Rome and bred there as exotic pets, sacred animals, and extravagant delicacies. Peacock breasts and tongues were served at the most fashionable banquets. Sacred to the goddess Juno, peacocks were sometimes kept in her sanctuaries, where they acquired a symbolic connection with apotheosis and immortality. The extremely expensive birds were also kept in the gardens of the rich as a status symbol. It is in this latter context that the peacock depicted standing on a fence or railing on this small Roman wall fresco fragment probably appeared.

Cut from a larger composition covering an entire wall, this painting is done in the style popular in the mid-first century A.D., which scholars called Fourth Style. In this period, garden walls were often decorated with garden scenes in order to enlarge the space visually. Peacocks, as well as fountains and statues, were painted on these walls to make the garden look more expensive and luxurious than what the owners could actually afford.