First century BCE
Height: max 26 cm
Width: max 24 cm
Recovered by the Guardia di Finanza in 2001
The painting, from a fresco, depicts a young man riding a dolphin against a green, watery background. The figure is represented in light colors. Some darker strokes emphasize particularities of the youth’s body, highlighting his musculature. The young man twists his torso towards the right; his head with its thick, dark hair turns to the front. His right leg folds to encircle the fish and his forearms stretch upwards to hold a shaft with the light grey blade of a scythe attached to its extremity. A fish rests on his right shoulder, its curved tail hanging near the youth’s waist. The fish is rendered with green brush strokes. The scene of the young man on the dolphin can be compared to similar figures found in Roman wall paintings, such as the fresco from Room E in the complex excavated at the river port at San Paolo fuori le mura. That scene is similar, even if painted with the more refined techniques of the second century CE. The painted scene could have been inspired by Homeric myths that were often portrayed on ceramics of everyday use. This facilitated the diffusion of iconographic subjects and motifs concerned with mythology. In our case, the figures in the fresco could have been inspired by the Homeric Hymn to Dionysus. In this poem, Dionysus was kidnapped by pirates, who he turned into dolphins after his liberation. However, the scythe that the youth holds in the small fragment suggests an element of admixture: the implement is an attribute of Cronus, the Titan god of time, not of Dionysus.
Maria Cristina Recco