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The Place Between: Villa Gardens and Garden Paintings

Mantha Zarmakoupi

University of Birmingham

This paper focuses on the landscape paintings, which were integrated in the decorative schemes featuring on walls of early Imperial houses and villas, to address the ways in which these representations related to contemporary architecture and landscape architecture design. Whereas the early surviving representations of landscape show inland pastoral scenes in their majority, from the beginning of the first century CE the bulk of landscape paintings portray littoral scenes featuring porticoes and villas hovering over bays and harbours. I argue that the Insertion of maritime façades featuring prominent basis villae in the iconographic repertoire of landscape representation was informed by contemporary developments in villa architecture and was associated with a shift of emphasis in the perception of landscape. While the religious settings of the early landscapes made reference to the culture of the Hellenistic world, the maritime settings explicitly referred to the Roman cultural phenomenon of the luxury villa. By incorporating iconic views of villas' architecture together with idealized pastoral landscapes that drew on the Hellenistic tradition, Roman artists accomplished two things: they defined the notion of landscape as a distanced view of another world—a distanced view of the Hellenistic world that they incorporated in the life and architecture of the villas—, and they asserted the place of the villa in this world. These contrasting landscape representations echoed the views of controlled nature within the villas, and views of nature-both built and overgrown-beyond the villas and boasted Roman architecture's ability to dominate nature. The villas' domestic interiors presented a kind of mise en abyme of actual and painted views of architecture, nature and controlled nature, which was essentially at the core of Romans' architectural and decorative mannerisms in the early imperial period.

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Herculaneum: New Technologies and New Discoveries in Art and Text

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