Comparison of binder compositions in Pompeian wall painting styles from Insula Occidentalis

Monica Gelzo, Mario Grimaldi, Alessandro Vergara, Valeria Severino, Angela Chambery, Antonio Dello Russo, Ciro Piccioli, Gaetano Corso, Paolo Arcari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Although the pigment composition of Pompeian wall paintings has been the object of several studies, a comprehensive characterization of paint binder components is still lacking. This work aimed investigated at a molecular level the binder composition differences among wall paintings belonging to different periods of Pompeii’s history. Analytical investigations were performed on representative samples of the first, second, third, and fourth painting styles excavated from the house of Marcus Fabius Rufus (Insula Occidentalis). The application of sensitive experimental methodologies was complemented by historical knowledge to gain insight in painting techniques and materials used by Pompeian artists.

Results: Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy were used to investigate the organic components and pigments present in powders obtained from samples of the four painting styles. No proteinaceous components were detected in the samples with liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization-hybrid quadrupole/time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Liquid chromatography, gas chromatography with flame-ionization detection, and gas chromatography–mass spectrometry of polar and non-polar components extracted from powders were used to evaluate and compare the free amino acids, sugars, and fatty acids profiles.

Conclusions: Pigments and natural products (lipids, gums and wheat flours) were the main components of all samples. This supports the hypothesis that artists likely used water tempera for Pompeian wall paintings.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCoke and Chemistry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 20 2014


  • Binder analysis
  • Cultural heritage
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Pompeian wall painting
  • Spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Process Chemistry and Technology
  • Fuel Technology
  • Environmental Chemistry


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