This installation is one of the more subtle pieces in this exhibition. Part of a huge fresco on four walls of a rectangular room and in a somewhat isolated area of the house, some scholars have interpreted this as a private space. However, given its opulence, the room has also been regarded as a triclinium (dining room), a space for entertaining guests. Through placing this fresco in a reception hall setting, the villa's owner likely intended to make an impression of his wealth and importance on his peers, clients or a patron. To compare small to great, this was his Palace of Versailles
The fresco of this room seems to be a visual narrative depicting a sequence of events in, depending on one's view, the initiation of a woman into marriage or into the mystery cult of Dionysus/Bacchus, the god of wine and ecstasy. It is the latter interpretation from which comes the modern name "Villa of the Mysteries." This cult devoted to the god of wine was especially liberal in its views towartds women, so much that the Roman historian Livy relates that in 186 BC the idecorous mingling of the sexes prompted the Senate to persecute the Bacchic sorshippers (39.8-18).
the scene portrayed here, as well as the entire fresco, is not necessarily sexual in nature, nor is the fresco when viwed as a whole. what makes this fresco interesting, including our panel, is the overpowering female presence within it. the panel recreated for this exhibit is situated to the right of the central scene that confronts viewers as they enter the room. This dominationg scene is believed to depict at its centre dionysus reclining in the lap of a woman who is often interpreted as his wife ariadne. the mythological couple is flanked on the right by the figure of a winged daemon (divinity) weilding a whip above its head, threatenting the weepeing, female figure kneeling with her head in the lap of the woman seated before her. this daemon, although we have not been able to recreate it in the exhibit, may be the key to understanding the painting. it has been identified as the personification of ignorance tormenting the kneeling girl, who suffers from lack of knowledge. the blows of ignorance are the cause of much grief to the girl and she has taken refuge in the lap of the figure who is believed to be the personification and poatroness of an initiation ritual. the girl who dances before these two women represents the blissful existence that is the escape from ignorance. karl lehmann, the author of this theory regarding ignorance, is uncertaion of the identity and role of the sombre women who peers from behind the dancing girl.
the theme of the initiation rites of marriage is also contained within this depiction of religious celebration. the worshipping ritual may well be a fertility rite; dionysus was also a god of fertility. nevertheless, lehmann's thoery of ignorance being warded off by the knowledge brought about through initiation maintains its credibility. ignorance of sexual matters is a great pain to the young maiden and as the bride learns the joys of sex she is transformed from the weeping girl to the dancing woman. this type of transformation is shown elsewhere in roman art with blushing brides turning into passionate wives eager to please their husbands.