The J. Paul Getty Museum

Fresco Fragment with Nilotic Landscape

Object Details

Title:

Fresco Fragment with Nilotic Landscape

Artist/Maker:

Unknown

Culture:

Roman

Place:

Italy (Place Created)

Date:

A.D. 1–79

Medium:

Tempera on plaster (fresco)

Object Number:

72.AG.86

Dimensions:

45.7 × 38 × 3.8 cm (18 × 14 15/16 × 1 1/2 in.)

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Object Description

In a scene set on the banks of the Nile River in Egypt, a crocodile moves through a cluster of rushes and sneaks up on a small figure rowing a boat beside a thatched hut and a scraggly palm tree. In the background is an impressionistic rendering of a bridge and a colonnaded portico supporting various buildings in Greco-Roman architectural style. The remains of a red border are preserved at the top and bottom of the fragment, and an additional, darker stripe along the bottom edge may have been the frame of another scene below.

During the first and second centuries AD, Nilotic scenes appear often in Roman frescoes and mosaics in a variety of contexts, mostly in domestic settings but also in public baths, temples, and tombs. These landscapes sometimes portray Egypt’s inhabitants as the pygmies (pygmaioi) of Greek myth: dwarf-like people who were believed to live in far-away lands, such as Ethiopia (not to be confused with the actual African people of the Congo once given this name). Roman viewers could have assigned various meanings to the presence of pygmies in Nilotic scenes, depending on their context. They may have called to mind Egyptian dwarf gods like Bes, who served an apotropaic function; alluded to the fertility-granting powers of Egyptian deities; played a role in Roman “othering” of Egypt and Egyptians; expressed the cultural sophistication and worldliness of the homeowner; or served as comedic satire. Nilotic imagery could also evoke associations with fertility in connection with the river’s annual flooding. It is possible that the figure rowing the boat in this fresco fragment is a pygmy, lending the scene a marvelous quality and representing Egypt as a land of mystery.

Further reading:
Miguel John Versluys, Aegyptiaca Romana: Nilotic Scenes and the Roman Views of Egypt, 2002; John R. Clarke, “Three Uses of the Pygmy and the Aethiops at Pompeii: Decorating, “Othering”, and Warding off Demons,” in Laurent Bricault, Miguel John Versluys, and Paul G.P. Meyboom (eds.), Nile into Tiber: Egypt in the Roman World. Proceedings of the IIIrd International Conference of Isis studies, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, May 11-14 2005, 2007, pp. 155-169; Paul G.P. Meyboom and Miguel John Versluys, “The Meaning of Dwarfs in Nilotic Scenes,” in Laurent Bricault, Miguel John Versluys, and Paul G.P. Meyboom (eds.), Nile into Tiber: Egypt in the Roman World. Proceedings of the IIIrd International Conference of Isis studies, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, May 11-14 2005, 2007, pp. 170-208; Caitlín E. Barrett, "Nilotic Scenes in Roman Art," in Jeffrey Spier, Timothy Potts, and Sara E. Cole (eds.), Beyond the Nile: Egypt and the Classical World, 2018, p. 250; Caitlín E. Barrett, Domesticating Empire: Egyptian Landscapes in Pompeiian Gardens, 2019.

Provenance
Provenance
- 1972

Elie Borowski, Polish, 1913 - 2003 (Basel, Switzerland), sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1972.

Bibliography
Bibliography

Vermeule, Cornelius, and Norman Neuerberg. Catalogue of the Ancient Art in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1973), pp. 48-49, no. 101, ill.

Fredericksen, Burton B., ed. The J. Paul Getty Museum: Greek and Roman Antiquities, Western European Paintings, French Decorative Arts of the Eighteenth Century (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1975), pp. 21, 40.

Fredericksen, Burton B., Jiří Frel, and Gillian Wilson. Guidebook: The J. Paul Getty Museum. 4th ed. Sandra Morgan, ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1978), pp. 38-39, 41, ill.

Whitehouse, Helen. "A Catalogue of Nilotic Landscapes in Roman Art." D.Phil. diss. (University of Oxford, 1979), p. 183, cat. no. P37, pl. LXXXV(b).

Fredericksen, Burton B., Jiří Frel, and Gillian Wilson. The J. Paul Getty Museum Guidebook. 5th ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1980), p. 28 (color ill.).

The J. Paul Getty Museum Appointment Calendar (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1981), Week of April 27.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 1st ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1986), p. 56.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Collections. 3rd ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1991), p. 63.

Towne Markus, Elana. Masterpieces of the J. Paul Getty Museum: Antiquities. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1997), pp. 114-15.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Antiquities Collection (Los Angeles: 2002), p. 219.

Versluys, M.J. Aegyptiaca Romana: Nilotic Scenes and the Roman Views of Egypt (Leiden: Brill, 2002), pp. 168-169, no. 77.

Spivey, Nigel and Squire, Michael. Panorama of the Classical World (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2004), p. 186, fig. 297.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Antiquities Collection. Rev. ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010), p. 223.