Some of the most celebrated frescoes at the ancient Roman ruin of Pompeii have been given a course of antibiotics. Specifically, conservators used amoxicillin, a type of penicillin, to treat strains of bacteria living in the ancient frescoes that decorate what scholars believe to be the dining room of the Villa of the Mysteries.
The streptococcus bacteria were thriving on the paintings’ natural pigments and turning them to dust. The ancient house reopened to the public in March after a two-year restoration project.
A team of 20 people from the private firm Atramentum gave the villa a thorough makeover. In addition to cleansing the works of damaging bacteria they also removed traces of soil in the paintings that had been left over from the excavation of the site in the early 1900s.
The team spent more than a year stabilizing the mosaic floors and cleaning thousands of square yards of interior decoration across the house. They also analyzed the works which revealed a wide range of painting techniques used on the walls, from paint mixed with melted wax to water-based pigments to the rare compound “Egyptian blue”.
They paid close attention to the deep red color used so extensively in the murals. Conservators actually used lasers to remove dark stains that had formed in the pigment over time as soil particles containing the black mineral manganese became soluble in rainwater, which seeped through cracks in the ancient brickwork.
The restoration completes the second phase of work on the Villa of the Mysteries, following work that began in 2008 to reinforce the structure and to renovate roofing.