On my latest sketching outing with my friend Esther I decided to try to do my own version of a work of art called Portrait of Terentius Neo or The Baker and His Wife. It is from a fresco found in Pompeii in the home of Terentius Neo who we know was a baker because his home had been modified to include a bakery.
1700 years after Mount Vesuvius erupted the city of Pompeii was discovered, a kind of frozen time capsule that tells us much about life in the first century AD. The Baker and his Wife was an important find by the archeologists exploring Pompeii.
The famous fresco which now resides in an archeology museum in Naples shows a pair of middle-class Pompeii residents probably a husband and wife. The man and woman have large almond-shaped eyes. They look like prosperous and confident merchants. The man has a wispy beard, and is wearing a toga, the mark of a Roman citizen. He holds a scroll of sorts with a wax seal. The woman has fashionable ringlets in her hair and wears pearl earrings. She has just a hint of smile on her face. She holds a stylus or writing implement to her chin and has a wax tablet to write on indicating that she is educated and literate.
Paul Roberts from the British Museum who curated an exhibit which included The Baker and His Wife claims the most important thing about the fresco is that the couple in it appear to be equal business partners. The woman who clearly keeps track of the finances for the business is not subservient at all and in fact is standing slightly forward from her husband.
Makes me wonder if the famous fresco shouldn’t have been called The Baker and Her Husband.