ADRESSing Venus Pompeiana


Lisa A. Hughes, University of Calgary


Early scholars established that select fresco paintings depicting a statuesque full-length, dressed, frontal female figure, whom Eros typically accompanied, depicted Pompeii’s patron deity, Venus Pompeiana. The statuesque presentation of the pair had also led the same scholars to infer that the visual representations formed the basis for a no-longer extant cult statue at the Porta Marina’s Sanctuary of Venus. The goddess also was seen as having direct links with the Roman colonizer Sulla’s patron deity Venus Felix. More recent works, in contrast, examine the goddess’s pre-Roman and Roman connections to show religious, political, and cultural continuities; link the goddess to specific political regions of the city; or establish the frequency of the goddess’s appearance in non- and reception spaces within domestic contexts.

Unanswered questions remain. Why, for example, do the goddess’s visual representations appear in different forms of dress (e.g., hairstyle, headgear, textile, and jewelry) and with subsidiary representations (e.g., Eros, mirrors, scepters, incense burners, plants, elephants, and rudders)? Moreover, how does the goddess interact with other prominent deities in the visual record (e.g., Dionysus)? This study sheds new light on the goddess’s roles in Pompeii and its environs by expanding the evidence to include not only wall painting, but also, sculpture and jewelry, establishing a timeline for the variable appearances of visual representations, and providing a contextual analysis of the deity within and around the spaces she appears.

What becomes evident is that inhabitants of Pompeii and environs continuously adapted the visual representations of Venus Pompeiana from the pre-Roman to Julio-Claudian periods. Accordingly, select individuals could highlight their devotion to the goddess and other deities who brought economic prosperity through food production, textiles, and spectacle.