Frescos from the House of Lidia at Prima Porta
30 - 20 a.C.
The remains of the Villa of Livia, wife of Emperor Augustus, were found in the late nineteenth century in the Prima Porta area at the 9th mile of the Via Flaminia. The frescoes, which in 1951 were brought to the National Roman Museum for conservation reasons, decorated the walls of a large semi-underground wing which was probably used as a summer triclinium, that is, as a living room and a banquet used in the warmer months. They constitute the oldest example of continuous garden painting, datable by style in the decade 30-20 BC. The images are organized according to two distinct visual perceptions: the fence of reeds and the balustrade of marble, placed horizontally, and the trees in the niches that vertically rhythm the walls. Within this scheme a variety of plants and birds are reproduced naturalistically. This pictorial genre testifies to the prestigious role assumed by the garden, ordered according to the canons of the topiary (art of the gardens), in the villae and domus of the late Republican and Augustan age. The theme found particular success in the figurative program of Augustus, who saw the best allusion to felicitas temporum, resulting from the Pax Augusta, in the flourishing nature.