The sixth day of the "Museum Week 2018" is dedicated to the portrayal of nature in culture, art and science, so let’s discover the Ancient Roman painted garden from the Villa of Livia, on display at the Museo Nazionale Romano di Palazzo Massimo in Rome.
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Website: Check the program here.
A painted nature
You can escape the hustle of the Termini train station entering this luxuriant paradise survived from Ancient Rome: a unique painted garden from the Villa of Livia will surround you and let completely immerse yourself in a new, serene dimension. Various exotic birds play in the varied and wild vegetation prospering beyond an illusionistic fence or fly over the blue sky, whose color variation renders an atmospheric effect. The different species of flora and fauna are depicted in accurate detail: among the variety of flowers, plants and trees, for example, scholars have been able to recognize strawberry trees, oleander, cypresses, date palms and oaks.
Livia Drusilla's house
These magnificent frescoes were discovered on the occasion of the excavations carried out around 1863 in the Roman suburb of Prima Porta, along the via Flaminia. The frescoes, dated around the second half of the 1st century BC, decorated the walls of the underground triclinium, or dining room, belonging to the house of Livia Drusilla, wife of the Roman emperor Augustus, known as “Villa di Livia” or “Villa di Primaporta”.
The story of the sacred branch
As narrated by Plinius the Elder in his “Naturalis Historia”, when Livia was still betrothed to Augustus, an eagle dropped a white hen into Livia’s lap as she was seated. The hen held a laurel branch rich of berries in its beak and the haruspices interpreted this as a religious sign and recommended to look after the hen and to plant the branch. The order was granted at the Caesars’ villa along the Tiber river, near the ninth marker of the via Flaminia, which was then called “ad gallinas” or “ad gallinas albas” (to the white hens). A sacred grove grew there from that planted branch.
From the Roman villa to a museum
In the 1950s, the four panels of the painted walls were detached from the Roman villa and are now safely on view in a museum, the Museo Nazionale Romano di Palazzo Massimo. Recently, a faithful reproduction of the painted panels has been set up at the Villa of Livia. The Museo Nazionale Romano di Palazzo Massimo houses one of the most important collections of classical antiquity. If you’d enjoy a visual comparison with the painted garden, you can dive into the vivid colors of the ancient wall decorations displayed in other rooms on the same museum floor, coming from a vanished house at Trastevere, the so-called Villa della Farnesina.
im doing my history project on this and having trouble understanding what its significance is, in relation to its context? could you give me pointers on that?
I am painting this fresco in a private residence for a commission. My clients keep asking how long it will take. Do we know how much time it took to paint this fresco or at least how long it took to create the reproduction?
It is stated” four panels of the painted walls were detached from the Roman villa and are now safely on view in a museum” Can you explain what these panels are? Were they removable surfaces or what?
thanks for asking this interesting question.
The walls of the Roman villa were painted through the artistic technique called “a fresco”, that is to say that the painting pigments were cohesive to the plaster because spread before the lime dried off. Especially between the 1950s and 1970s, the custom of tearing off or detach the fresco paintings from the walls where they were originally executed become widespread, following an idealistic approach to the restoration process, which considered the pure essence of the image more important than the material and the context of the place.
To better safeguard and preserve the paintings, they could be essentially either torn off (the painting surface is covered by a layer of glue, then by a coat of cotton veil, glue again, finally by a canvas and then torn off and displayed on another surface such as a new supporting layer in the same place, or elsewhere such as a museum wall) or detached (similar to the previous process, but in this case the use of a hammer allows the detaching of the entire thickness of the wall where the painting is spread). This is what happened to the frescoes from the Villa of Livia.
Nowadays, these processes are less used because the context of the paintings have been deemed equally important for the understanding and fruition of the artwork.
We hope this answers your question, but if you have any further doubt, please do not hesitate to ask.
All the best,
Do we have any idea who painted the murals in Livia’s garden room?
thanks for asking!
The author of the murals in Livia’s villa has not been specifically identified but we can rely on the illustrious scholar Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli who supposed the painter was a superb master, able to execute an artwork greater than most of the painting remains in Rome and he could be the same author of the paintings in the so-called Auditorium Maecenatis (Auditorium di Mecenate).
If you have further questions, feel free to contact us!
All the best,