But look at the colour! The texture of the rose petals and the delicate shine on the column on the right. It’s an extravagant scene, Roman or Greek in setting and clearly rather a well to do establishment. But then one finds the story the painting is trying to depict; Roman emperor Elagabulus is trying to smother his guests with rose petals which have fallen from a false ceiling! But I don’t buy it. Clearly the people at the back, presumably including the Emperor himself are looking on wit great interest but the others in the foreground supposedly suffocating don’t look too bothered. In fact to me, they look like they’re having a great old time rolling around in the soft duvet of pinkness. The woman in the middle still has hold of her mirror, hardly the time to check her hair with such impending terminal breathlessness!
This does bring to light a contradcition in the form of the delicacy and beauty of colour and form of the picture and the narrative that is trying to be depicted, that of a scene of mass murder. It doesn’t seem to add up. The laughing faces of the people at the high table could be seen as a mocking macabre attitude but the women at the bottom look rather non-plussed, not fearing their own immediate mortality.
The figues I find most interesting are the ginger chap on the right and the young lady at the top who, oddly, also seems to be a redhead! The flow of the petals seem to follow her, as if her she is controlling them with her pipe playing, as they unfurl around the room. The ginger fellow, rather more rustic in appearance than the other guests also seems somewhat removed from the immediate procedings. In fact the ginger fellow is looking at the pipess, and they are both somewhat ignored by the rest of the crowd. They seem to be bringing the natural into the domestic. He is wild and she, draped in a leopard skin, brings flowers, roses yes, a domesticated species, but one that is thorny and fragant and needs to be cut back every year, a homage to their wild past.
Going back to my own past, that of my inner archaeologist, I’m reminded of Hodder’s domus:agrios opposition. Perhaps the ginger fellow is acting as a foris, a boundary between the two, the wildman in the court of the king?