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Solomon in Pompeii?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Fresco from the House of the Physician in Pompeii showing three Roman soldiers: two in white tunics and one in red tunic
Fresco from the House of the Physician in Pompeii showing three Roman soldiers: two in white tunics and one in red tunic

In Pompeii, in the so-called House of the Physician or House of the Judgement, a painting with a biblical accent was discovered in 1841. It is a scene referring to the judgment of Solomon (Archaeological Museum of Naples [inventory number 113197]).

In his sentence, the ruler appealed to maternal feelings to establish the actual motherhood. He ordered the child to be halved and given to two women claiming to be his mother. The one who was really his mother, out of pity for the child, agreed to give the other woman alive.

According to Pierre Gusman, the painting actually alludes to a biblical scene and, in his opinion, has the form of grylloi (a caricature genre initiated by Antiphilos)1.

In the painting you can see a figure who is going to be a cleaver on a child. One of the women is standing next to him, while the other is kneeling, begging for the child in front of the ruler, who is accompanied by two figures. Everything is being watched by outsiders and soldiers.

According to Gusman, this is not the only reference to the biblical account. Another painting – according to him – shows Jonah. Instead of a fish, the painting shows a hippopotamus and pygmies.

Author: Waldemar Owczarczak (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  1. Pierre Gusman, Pompei, the city, its life & art, s. 377 (1900).

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