FUNCTION AND MEANING OF HADRIAN'S VILLA
1. - Pavements
The pavements of Hadrian's Villa have been classified in five main groups:
Mosaics were classified according to their decoration and workmanship, that is the measurements of the tesserae and their number in 100 square centimeters (a 10 x 10 cm. square).
1 - entirely white, without decoration
Workmanship values in mosaics
1 - very low: from 9 to 28 tesserae in cmq. 100
A statistic study of the mosaics and their distribution within the Villa outlined the following relationships and connections:
1 - a connection between type of decoration and the workmanship values: mosaics without decoration had lower workmanship values, while polychrome ones had much higher values.
2 - a connection between workmanship values, decoration of the mosaic and function of the room: mosaics located in corridors had lower values compared to the mosaics in the main rooms, as can be seen in the HOSPITALIA (n. 8) and IMPERIAL TRICLINIUM (n. 7).
In Hadrian's Villa we have some mosaic pavements inherited from the previous republican Villa, which was enclosed in the hadrianic structures of the IMPERIAL PALACE (n. 12). The small villa featured the traditional repertoire of the the republican age: to the mid 1st century B.C. can be dated a polychrome mosaic with three-dimensional lozenges, found in the IMPERIAL PALACE (fig. 1). This motive belonged to the hellenistic repertoire, and was quite common during the republican age. We know other similar examples in Pompeii, in Oplontis (now Torre Annunziata) in the Villa of Poppaea, in the roman Ager in the villa of the Cecchignola and near Rome at Fiano Romano, in the Villa of Volusii at Lucus Feroniae.
To the late republican age belongs another mosaic employing a republican motive, which has white background decorated with colored marble crustae, and was found in the IMPERIAL PALACE (fig. 2). This type of mosaic was frequently used in porches, is typical of the republican age, and appeared in some villas of the roman Ager, such as that of via Pollenza, of via del Quadrato or on the via Prenestina at Torre Spaccata. In the the Villa of Volusii at Lucus Feroniae, near Rome, we have a similar mosaic with black background and crustae.
In the hadrianic age appeared a new repertoire with vegetal and arabesque drawings, such as those visible in the HOSPITALIA (n. 8) (fig. 3). The Hospitalia had ten cubicula, each one with three alcoves for the beds. Since the beds were hiding their pavement, the alcoves had mosaics with simple geometric patterns. More complex and decorative drawings were used instead in the visible part of the pavement, the central one, where we can see an explosion of fantasy and creativity. Stylized arabesque or calligraphic motives create a new style, using vegetal elements such as palmettes, garlands or leaves to build squares or circles, decorated with rosettes or other flowers. This new repertoire will be used elsewhere in the roman empire, especially at Ostia. Another new drawing appeared in the sacellum HS2 in the HOSPITALIA (n. 8) (fig. 3a): its interlaced circles outline curved hexagons, and this is a development of the old drawing with interlaced circles outlining curvilinear squares. The new hexagon pattern appears in this same period in the re-decorations of the Villa of Livia at Prima Porta or the Villa of the Cimitero Flaminio, both located in the Ager surrounding Rome.
The creation of a new repertoire of calligraphic mosaic patterns did not mean that the old and traditional drawings had to disappear. A typical feature of Hadrian's Villa is looking back to previous tradition, as far as architecture or decoration were concerned. This is why we see a revival of ancient mosaic patterns of republican age, as in the porch of the MARITIME THEATER (n. 18), entirely white, with black larger tesserae (fig. 4). This simple but elegant pattern appeared during the republican age in Pompeii (I, 9, 13), at Rome in Livia's House on the Palatine, in the villa of Livia at Prima Porta near Rome, and also in the roman Ager in the villas of the Marcigliana or on the via Tiberina (km. 0,850).
Also in the porch of the VESTIBULUM (n. 25), there was an 'old fashioned' mosaic, with basketweave texture made of rectangular tesserae, and colored marble fragments (fig. 5), it was found during the restorations of Jubilee year 2000. A similar basketweave mosaic is in the Greek Library. The pattern is known in republican age in the villa of Livia at Prima Porta near Rome and also in Pompeii.
Another revival of an ancient pattern can be observed in the main corridor of the Hospitalia (n. 8): small crosses made of four black tesserae, set in a white background. In republican age this drawing was widely used in Pompeii, Herculaneum and in the Ager surrounding Rome.
Black and white mosaics were located in secondary buildings, mainly paved with mosaic: in the HOSPITALIA (n. 8), in the IMPERIAL TRICLINIUM (n. 7), in the FIREMEN'S HEADQUARTERS (n. 22A), in the GREAT BATHS (n. 26), in the WEST SUBSTRUCTURES OF THE CANOPUS (n. 28a), and in the FARMHOUSE NEAR PIAZZA D'ORO (n. 15b). Workmanship values were low and medium.
Polychrome mosaics were used only in the noble buildings, mainly paved with opus sectile: in the GREEK LIBRARY (n. 10), in the IMPERIAL PALACE (n. 12), in the CANOPUS (n. 28), in ROCCABRUNA (n. 29), in the ACCADEMIA (n. 30), and in PIAZZA D'ORO (n. 15). Most of them are small panels, whose quality and preciousness are outstanding:
Another outstanding group of vermiculata mosaics was found by Cardinal Marefoschi in the IMPERIAL PALACE (n. 12) (fig. 7). They represent scenic Masks and some of them are now in the Gabinetto delle Maschere in the Vatican Museums of Rome. Another mosaic with Centaurs is now in Berlin. Workmanship values were high or very high, with hundreds or thousands tesserae in ten square centimeters. In Hadrian's Villa we can see that ancient republican mosaics, belonging to the previous republican Villa, survive as 'fossils'; we also see a revival of those ancient patterns that were used together with new calligraphic patterns, typical of hadrianic age. There is a continuity with the past and at the same time a renewal of the repertoire, with brand new designs.
2 - opus sectile
It was the prevailing type of pavement in most of Hadrian's Villa (approximately 60-70% of its pavements were in opus sectile), and used a variety of marbles coming from the whole world - a beautiful collection is visible in the 'Didactic Museum' at the Villa. This wealth of different and expensive types of marbles is another sign of the opulence of the Villa.
Opus sectile drawings have been classified in three main groups (for the different drawings, see also Section: Opus Sectile Repertoire):
1 - simple patterns: simple geometric forms - triangles, squares, rectangles, hexagons, octagons, lozenges.
Unfortunately, very little survives of the original opus sectile pavements; in ancient times, marble tiles have been stolen and burnt to make lime. Quite often the pavement concrete still bears traces of the tiles, and if they are not too much weathered it is still possible to reconstruct the original drawing of the pavement. (For a discussion on the method of reconstructing patterns from imprints see the following link: Droit de Reponse Aiema and Bryn Mawr College Review)
It is very important to point out that the marble tiles, if the measurements are made using roman feet, always showed to have perfectly 'round' measurements: one roman foot (cm. 29,6), one foot and a half (cm. 44,4) or two feet and one quarter (cm. 66,6) and so on. This is very important in order to verify the reliability of drawings, when marble tiles are not preserved and we have to rely just on their imprints.
There was a hierarchy in the choice of patterns: simple drawings were mainly used in corridors (fig. 8) and secondary rooms. Since these rooms usually were squared
More complex drawings, employing a great variety of colours and different marble types - and therefore extremely expensive - were used in the main halls and rooms, where the utmost elegance and luxury was requested (fig. 9). One of the preferred stones was red porphyr, which as we said was the imperial stone par excellence, hinting to the purple imperial colour.
There also was a connection between the shape of a room and the drawing: mixed patterns with one or more geometric figures were used in rooms which had an irregular shape, such as the porch on the northern side of the GREEK and LATIN LIBRARIES (n. 10 and 9). Mixed pattern drawings were better suitable for the complicated plans of the hadrianic buildings, which preferred curved shapes, lines and apses.
3 - Opus spicatum
It was used in secondary buildings, mainly paved with mosaic, such as in the courtyard of the GREAT BATHS (n. 26), or in the servant's quarters as in the HUNDRED CHAMBERS (n. 16). In the noble buildings, opus spicatum was used for roofing, as can be seen in the CASINO WITH SEMICIRCULAR ARCADES (n. 20).
4 - coccio-pisto
Two coccio-pisto pavements were inherited from the previous republican villa enclosed in the IMPERIAL PALACE (n. 12): one has the typical meander and lozenge drawing outlined with white tesserae (fig. 10). This type of pavement is typical of the republican age, very commonly used at Pompeii and Herculaneum, but also in the roman Ager, for example in the villa of the Volusii at Lucus Feroniae (now Fiano Romano, near Rome).
5 - White marble revetment
White marble was consistently used for all kind of finishing, from doorsteps to stairs and most of all in water basins, fountains and nymphaea scattered all over the Villa. The large basin of the WINTER PALACE (n. 22), the so called Peschiera or fishpond, was reveted with white marble, as were the large basins of the PECILE (n. 16) or PIAZZA D'ORO (n. 15), and also the Euripus of the CANOPUS (n. 28), the fountains of the GARDEN STADIUM (n. 21), and the circular basin of the MARITIME THEATER (n. 18). White marble also reveted all basins for hot or cold water, in the four thermal plants of Hadrian's Villa: the GREAT BATHS (n. 26), in the SMALL BATHS (n. 24) (fig. 11), in the THERMAE WITH HELIOCAMINUS (n. 19), and also in the small private therma of the MARITIME THEATER (n. 18).