Greco-Roman Inspiration

By Karen Parr-Moody


Greco-Roman culture, the fusion of the Greek and Roman ideas from the ancient world, touches everything from philosophy to architecture, and even today, it continues to permeate interior design. 


During the 1800s, many grand American homes were designed in the style called Greek revival, in which the architecture generally included white exteriors and took aesthetic cues from the recent archaeological discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum.


Along with fireplaces in nearly every room, the interiors would have been filled with a style called Neoclassicism, which emerged in the U.S. during the Federal period. Neoclassicism kept the graceful curves of Rococo, but did away with all of the superfluous flourishes. To this, Neoclassicism blended Gothic, Chinese and Palladian elements in birthing a variety of sub-styles, among them the late Georgian and Regency periods in England, the Louis XVI or Empire styles in France.


The Neoclassical style was, and continues to be, a timeless and elegant decorating style.


Accessories in Neoclassical home include motifs drawn from classical Greek and Roman mythology, and, to a lesser degree, the daily life of Greco-Roman citizens. Such décorincludes a variety of ornamental jars and containers, such as Wedgwood Jasperware and these beautiful brass cachepots seen in the photo, above right ($95; Booth B-138). These containers are embossed with the figures of carefree dancers wearing peplos, a traditional garment worn by the Doric women of the fifth century B.C.


In the figural Greek lamp in the photo, left, the woman also wears the traditional peplos garment ($69; Booth B-206). This is a typical neoclassical style, often seen in marble sculpture, in which a woman holds a water pitcher and stands in "contrapposto" – the Italian word meaning "counterpose.” The figure stands with most of its weight on one foot making the shoulders and arms twist off the axis from the hips and legs. 


The brass cachepots and the whimsical lamp are both done in a Hellenistic style, which occurred during the 4th century B.C. and was a period in which sculpture was more naturalistic. Common people were depicted as opposed to the earlier popularity of god and rulers. However, the framed relief in the photo, right, speaks to another movement ($45; Booth B-1002). Deep in the roots of Greece – and copied by the Roman culture – was the tradition of depicting rulers and gods with their heads crowned with the laurel wreath, which this man wears. It was a symbol of achievement and an early form of a crown, with origins in Greek mythology.







On this beautiful Parisian vase in the photo, left, one sees a design with roots that run extremely deep into Grecian history ($45; Booth B-138). It is the art of wall painting, which goes back at least to the Mycenaean Bronze Age, circa 1900 B.C. to 1100 B.C. During this period, lavish fresco decorations were created on the sites of Knossos, Tiryns and Mycenae. This vase, which features a couple in a stylized pose, contains the aesthetic threads of that ancient art. 












While not specific to ancient Greece, this engraving of an emperor of the Holy Roman Empire certainly takes inspiration from that society’s culture ($75; Booth B-138). It features Lothair II, also called Lothair III, who was the Holy Roman emperor from 1133 to 37 with origins as a German king. The plate looks very much like an ancient coin, and in it the emperor wears a garment inspired by the traditional toga, which was gathered at the shoulder by a jeweled clasp.


Even in modern décor, Greco-Roman style can find a home. The decorating blogs are full of examples, such as a Hollywood Regency style dresser, with its sleek lines, topped by a marble bust. The style can also include some hip elements, such as the fun variety of Greek keyhole prints found in carpets and drapery. Urns and decorative columns have their place in the style, as well. It’s easy to update the Neoclassical look with some creative GasLamp shopping.

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