Frescoes from the House of Livia in Prima Porta
30 - 20 a.C.
The remains of the Villa di Livia , wife of the emperor Augustus , were found at the end of the nineteenth century in the locality of Prima Porta on the 9th mile of the Via Flaminia. The frescoes, which were brought to the National Roman Museum in 1951 for conservation reasons, decorated the walls of a large semi-underground wing probably serving as a summer triclinium, i.e. a living room and banquet room used in the warmer months. They constitute the oldest example of continuous garden painting , datable by style to the decade 30-20 BC. In the frescoes of the Villa di Livia the images are organized according to two distinct visual perceptions : the fence of reeds and the marble balustrade, placed in horizontal, and the trees in the niches that rhythm the walls vertically. A variety of naturalistically reproduced plants and birds fit into this scheme. This pictorial genre testifies to the prestige role assumed by the garden, ordered according to the canons of the ars topiaria (art of the gardens), in the villae and domus of the late Republican and Augustan periods. The theme found particular success in the figurative program of Augustus, who saw in the prosperity of nature the best allusion to felicitas temporum, consequent to the Pax Augusta.