Lovecraft and others used the notion of highly detailed and descriptive murals in the ruins of ancient civilizations. Just by looking at what is painted or carved on the walls, the protagonists of a story can figure out how a ruin's ancient dwellers lived there lives. The "The Nameless City," the explorers see murals of reptilian beings going about all the city's business. While they are initially believed to be metaphorical, the lizard beings turn out to be real. Similarly, in "At the Mountains of Madness," the Elder Things history is detailed in bas-reliefs throughout the city.

Other authors from the pulp era used this trope as well, notably Clark Ashton Smith, as noted here.

What I'm wondering is in what work this trope originated. Or, if a particular work cannot be identified, what period this idea started appearing. If I had to venture a wild guess, I might think that it had something to do with the popularization of Egyptology in the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. Egyptian tombs were found to be extensively decorated with pictures of both mythical and mundane scenes.

  • This seems really vague.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 23:02
  • 11
    Also, we've literally discovered actual murals in actual ancient ruins. It's not a trope, it's art emulating real life
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 23:03
  • 1
    I think the question as it is now is about as vague as most other questions under the history-of tag. I think it's fine. Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 23:23
  • Buzz - A mural is a 2-dimensional image on a wall. Sculptures are 3-dimensional. The bas-reliefs in At The Mountains of Madness are not murals. The word "murals" in your title is inadequate since it only covers some of what you are asking about. Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 23:59
  • @M.A.Golding Oxford disagrees, having the principal definition of "mural" as: "painting or other work of art executed directly on a wall."
    – Buzz
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 0:25


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