Livias Garden The Technical, Symbolic Term Paper

Length: 13 pages Sources: 1+ Subject: Mythology Type: Term Paper Paper: #16395215 Related Topics: Augustus, Chrysanthemums, Archaeology, Painting
Excerpt from Term Paper :

Lusnia characterizes this concept as the persistence of signs that foretell of one's "imperial destiny." (517) Namely, this refers to the adoption of personal signs and symbols with some likely connection to historical imperial iconography and suggesting the principles of strength, virility, valor and divinity. Whether present or not throughout the life of the figure in question -- Augustus in this case -- the recurrence of certain specific images such as the laurel, retained within recurrent thematic contexts such as the Octavian 'garden,' would truly be intended to insist upon the hereditary and theological entitlement of Augustus to a seat atop the Roman Empire.

That unification, rebirth and flourishing growth would be themes of the Augustan rule should suggest to us that the images contained in Roman life and in the visual depiction of Roman life were not chosen in idle vanity. Instead, the must be a core psychological imperative that has keyed in on the evocative value of plant-life. As critical description has taken pains to distinguish, the evaluation of the murals in the so-called garden room as portraying a garden may be a misnomer, if not at least a severe understatement. The density and exotic array of life on display on the four walls of the room in which the murals had originally been excavated is compelling to this point, taking on the proportions of a deep wood or perhaps even a jungle paradise.

The theoretical positioning of the omina imperii in this compelling topiary array may trace itself with consistency through the course of Roman mythological history, making the Augustan decision to hone a focus in the implications of the lush greenery not entirely novel. Instead, we may suggest simply that the moment in history occupied by Augustus would inherently enable this most unapologetically elaborate expression of the impulse due to the singularity of his rule. As Kellum (1994) reports on the subject, "the emperor was quick to establish an arboreal mythology all his own through appropriation and invention.... Augustus... affiliated himself with Rome's founder Romulus and the city's early history on many levels." (Kellum, 211)

Indeed, for Augustus, the process of establishing himself as divinely and inherently entitled to preside over all of the Roman Empire would incorporate a studied and meaningful consistency of imagery and impression that could trace itself to the earliest symbolic incarnations of Roman Imperial Majesty.

There is yet another level of appreciation to be taken with regard to the images and their determinable diversity. Such is to say that the images depicted in individual moments throughout the massive mural are driven by minute and enveloping detail, with background and foreground blurring and sharpening respectively as if to impel the impression of real depth. Such a moment is captured by Figure B, shown here below. In Figure B, the perceptual depth imposed by the branches jutting out in front of a virtual horizon helps to suggest that the room as a whole had been intended to convey a feeling of being ensconced within the walls of a jungle. The Second Style of Roman Wall Painting which has already been discussed here above would allow for a conjuring of dimensionality theretofore unseen in wall painting.

Figure B: Depth Perspective Moment from Garden Painting at

As to the additional level of appreciation to be taken the realism which is here enabled, the dense selection of a diverse array of plant and bird species and the detail artfully pointed at their accuracy indicates a scientific import to the proceedings. It is clear that Octavian and, by extension, the Roman Imperial culture, took equal pride in the validity of its work as in its aesthetic worth. Accordingly, Walker (2007) remarks that "the vast variety of plant species indicates a profound knowledge of ars topiaria, and at the same time underlines the artificial character of this genre of painting, which depicts a flowering evergreen garden without any real connection with time, as diverse species are shown in simultaneous and continuous flowering." (1) the suggestion underwritten here is that the diversity reflected is in fact of a fantastical nature, in spite of the perceived impetus in Roman culture on academic veracity.

The implications to this approach are useful in identifying the dual interests in the provocation of such a work. Particularly, the denoted presence and -- according to what critical consensus may be located on the subject -- the definable accuracy of individual plant and animal subjects in the piece is emblematic of the strong Roman connection to academic verisimilitude. Not as much by contrast but perhaps by cultural distinction,...


Here, the purpose of their presence to the dominance of impression management may be seen to suggest an otherworldly force at play in the evolution of the Roman Empire.

And even still, our research can draw us directly to the location of scientific endorsement of even the choices made with regard to the density of the work. According to Caneva & Bohuny (2003), there can in fact be a case made through the closest of scrutiny that the accuracy and scientific value of the murals may be greater than the above comments suggest. Accordingly, within the study by Caneva & Bohuny (2003), "the painted flora is analyzed from the scientific viewpoint and previous identifications are critically discussed. Here, 24 different species are described, giving information on the taxonomic, and phytogeographic position. Most of them belong to the spontaneous elements present in the Mediterranean forests, maquis and grasses of Southern Italy, such as Arbutus unedo, Laurus nobilis, Nerium oleander, Quercus ilex, Quercus robur gr., Cornus mas, Myrtus communis, Phyllitis scolopendrium, Viola reichenbachiana, Chrysanthemum coronarium, Anthemis cotula, or widely cultivated, such as Cupressus sempervirens, Cydonia oblonga, Pinus pinea, Punica granatum, Papaver somniferum, Rosa centifolia, Phoenix dactylifera." (Caneva, 149) This breakdown of species variety is indicative of a close observation of specifications made in visual detail and representation which suggests that in fact, there is some high level of geographical proximity allowing for a display of these variant species in one location. Thus, to the defense of the purpose of the images here displayed, we can see that there is an academic trajectory which is not pursued with carelessness. Quite in fact, though we have before this point in the discussion already recounted a few of the more prominent species of plant depicted here, it is another thing entirely to make remark upon the taxonomic value of the display, which itself is possessed in no small degree of scientific merit.

All of this being stated, Caneva & Bohuny too make it clear that even a scientific scrutiny of the site should reveal an additional intent beyond empiricism for the density. As the review states of the mural, "a symbolistic purpose of the pictures is also clearly evident." (Caneva, 149) Namely, there is a set of specified premises, even beyond that which endorses the Octavian Empire, which are to suggest that in addition to an historical claim to the seat of power in Rome, the Emperor was likewise a clear harbinger of the future.

The semiotic correlation between blossoms, flowers and foliage and the new rising of the Roman Empire under its newly uniting leadership. The subject of peace, therefore, comes pointedly to mind as we assess the idyllic serenity suggested by the murals. Again, were it our opportunity to view such works in the context of their originating color and detail, it is likely that we would witness a compellingly calming panorama from the center of the garden room. With all walls seeming to bend almost to he width of the room, there is an imposing verdant quality that instigates a sense of comfort, warmth and equanimity.

The presence of so many species of bird is likewise a cause for some scrutiny, enticing us to evaluate the theme of fertility as expressed in the pollination continually in action in the painting. The population of birds is an extraordinary one which elicits the sense of animated and vibrant life within the imagined setting. In Figure C, three distinct species are shown in elaborate detail, even in the painting's currently restored state.

Figure C: Swallow, Oriole and Blackbird from Separate Moments Garden Painting at

As to the assessments of intended serenity and fertility, little empirical support has ever been offered. Though little more than hypothesis on account of creature proclivity, this is a supposition that allows us to perceive some likely uses for the room. Namely, we can deduce that its use was informal and most probably recreational. One might view it as a setting for entertainment and the receipt of casual or familiar guests.

Given that which we understand of Prima Porta and its role in history, this may be a…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Caneva, G. & Bohuny, L. (2003). Botanic analysis of Livia's villa painted flora. Journal of Cultural Heritage, 4(2), 149-155.

Flory, M.B. (1989). Octavian and the Omen of the 'Gallina Alba.' The Classical Journal, 84(4), 346-356.

Gabriel, M.M. (). Livia's Garden Room at Prima Porta.

Hoover, M. (2001). The Fine Art of Roman Wall Painting. San Antonio University. Online at

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