Saturday, October 9, 2004

Michelangelo's Contributions to Saint Peter's

Helen Wu
Honors in Rome - Summer 2004

I. Introduction
St. Peter's has carried its richness in history for centuries. It is known to be the tallest most worshiped church in the world. However, this church is a result of the laborious reconstruction since the Constantine, and has been renovated over some 120 years of continual work under a succession of 18 popes and 12 brilliant architects. Among them, Michelangelo Buonarroti had contributed his crowning achievement as an architect, commissioned by Pope Paul III in 1546. It was perhaps the last big project before his death, and unfortunately, he was not able to see the finished project. Interestingly, the first project commissioned by the French Cardinal Jean Bilheres de Lagraulas, which made him famous at the age of 25 was also placed in St. Peter's, namely the Pieta, a marble piece of Madonna with dead Jesus on her lap. Michelangelo had finished it as promised in 1500, the year of Jubilee. He was not only a sculptor and architect during his lifetime (1475-1564), but a magnificent painter and a poet. He was considered the supreme genius of the Renaissance art. Some facts about his life can help us understand aspects of his art.

Michelangelo was born in a noble family in Tuscany. His father Ludovico di Buonarotti had sent his son to a stone carver family because his wife was constantly ill. He had hoped that his son becomes a scholar in literature, and the news of Michelangelo wanting to become an artist had made him awfully disappointed. Against all odds, Michelangelo was able to follow his passion and his geniality had soon been revealed. He was recommended to attend Lorenzo the Magnificent, and was surrounded by scholars such as Polynesian poets. He had also started studying human anatomy, and frescoes paintings. In 1495, he began to work as a sculptor and he practiced copying many of the masterpieces on his own. Later on, he had received commission on many significant art work from many different Pope. In fact, he had been a hard working man all his life. Even before his death, he was carving his sculpture in a cardboard cap while ignoring the pain from his illness.

II. Description
The word 'Pieta' means 'mercy' in Italian, and it is an artwork depicting Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Jesus Christ after his cruxification. The subject of this particular artwork is originated from the north of Alps, and has been created in many different forms and shapes by different artists and painters. Traditionally, the pieta portrays the pain connected with the idea of redemption. However, Michelangelo merely a twenty-three year old presented a stand out masterpiece of Madonna and Christ that was never attempted before. Instead of making Madonna an old sorrowful lady caressing over her dead son, a young, a rather celestial Virgin Mary radiating an acceptance of pain. Her head leans slightly forward over the lifeless body of Jesus, and her eyes looking down with slight suffering. If one looks closely, the most intense expression of her sorrow was not through her lips but her hands. Notice that she merely uses one hand namely the right hand to hold up Christ's upper body. This implies her strength and muscularity of her body which is hidden under a beautifully carved long drapery. The figures are out of proportion partly due to the difficulty of the positioning of Christ, an adult man on a woman's lap. In addition, if Jesus were to be in human scale, the Virgin would be sixteen feet tall when standing up. The body of Jesus is that of a perfect male figure, the muscle, the vein, and the nerves all depicted through Michelangelo's meticulous and creative handcraft. Every part of Christ's body is in its exactitude which must not be surprising to us considering his Excellencies in mastering the human anatomy. The marks of cruxification is limited, with a wound on his side, the small nails did not go through his feet. Hence it must be interesting to note the contrast between perfect human bodies like Jesus to an oversized body like Mary. Clearly, Michelangelo did not loose his mind when it comes to choosing the ideal size for Mary in comparison to Jesus. Perhaps it is the subtle enlargement of Mary that makes us feel the power of motherhood hovering over her dead son, thus intensifies the earthly nature of what a perfect mother figure should be. Her youth and beauty signifies the preservation of eternal youth as a virgin. Michelangelo had summarized the innovations of 15 century predecessor like Donatello, and issued a new style for the High Renaissance in the 16 century.

The Pieta now displayed behind a glass case in St. Peter's

St Peter's dome is designed by Michelangelo. Unlike the Pieta, Michelangelo began the dome project at the age of 72. The most important theme that he tried to come across is the simplicity and divinity of St. Peter in the presence of light. The pointed cupola reveals the mystery of the universe, the miracle of reconciliation between God and man. Shining above, the Eternal city, and the silver grey dome radiates love of God. Most of the work was done on the lower part of the dome. He modified Bramente's Greek cross model of the interior to make it a more unified space. Around the base of the dome, he placed a colonnaded walkway next to the big windows lined up one next to the other. One top of each window, an alternating frame of triangle and semi-elliptical shapes is often used in his design. Just as a foot note, one can also observe such design on the Palazzo Farnese which he helped to design for the Farnese family. On the top of the column that is tied to the dome by beams, but no roofing between the intervals of the column. This is often used in Gothic buildings and he created huge semicircular walls echoing inside the dome to support the weight of the dome. He also replaced the sharp corners of the columns underneath the dome that supposedly support the weight of the dome. The double columns with large pediments break the wall mass over the windows. He made diagonal walls on the four corners of where the columns resided. The dome is on a high drum to give visibility of its massiveness. He had also thickened the exterior walls of the dome. From the outside, he used colossal order, meaning huge flat pilasters around the building's curves and corners to create the rippling, muscular surface. From far away, it creates a step-like movement of the cornice. The oval shaped dome that we see today was not an original intend of Michelangelo's. Regardless, the dome still symbolizes cosmological power for St. Peter who was buried underneath.St. Peter's
Exterior of the church

III. Function
The Pieta was meant to be displayed in the St. Peter's Basilica, and was commissioned by French cardinal Jean Bilheres who wanted it for his own tomb to give grandeur to the northern European iconography. Under the contract of agreement to finish building and be unveiled in the Holy year of Jubilee, 1500. It had served its purpose of being shown to a massive group of people, such as the thousands of pilgrims at the time, who will go home and spread their news. Undoubtedly, Michelangelo had then established his reputation for the gifted artistic ability, and became quite famous. The Pieta a stone carved symbol of divine beauty had touched many people's heart. Up to this day, it still serves as a model that conveys the audience about what perfect pain is like for a mother who lost her son.
As far as the dome is concerned, Michelangelo wanted people's first reaction as they walked into the dome is astonishment. People may be overwhelmed to see the amount of light that appears at the top of the dome and will lead and draw the audience's attention slowly toward the dome. However, the sensation must only last in an instant, because he didn't want people to feel secluded from the massiveness of the dome, rather be a part of the dimension of pure contemplation.

IV. Patron
Michelangelo had had lived in Florence, his birth place, in most of his early years. The nonstop political unrest in Florence plus the invasion of the French King Charles VIII in 1494 had caused Michelangelo to move out of Florence. In 1496, Michelangelo had summoned to Rome, and the French King's envoy to the pope, Cardinal Jean Bilheres de Lagraulas had special religious interest, doubtless to King, on the ancient basilica of St. Peter's basilica, namely St Petronilla, the legendary daughter of St Peter and the patroness of the dauphins of France. The Cardinal wanted his tomb and with the statue of Pieta at this place. Perhaps he was under the influence and connection between the French dauphin patron and his own French nationality.
For the dome, Julius II was really serious in the recreation and reconstruction of the dome in 1505, which had been previously fallen into pieces. Nevertheless, many artists who made the design of the building were in total disagreement and all of them died before the construction could actually begin. It wasn't until Michelangelo who was at the time appointed by Pope Paul III, who desperately wanted the construction to begin and to be finished. Pope Paul III had always favored Michelangelo, not only because he helped to design part of his palace, but he also admired his character. In his mind, Michelangelo is a tough, hard working, and talented artist. Indeed, at the age of 72, Michelangelo had worked day and night on the project mostly because he wanted to satisfy his own inner spiritual resolution to move closer in faith and love to God. Thus, he had asked the pope to not pay him at all. Indeed, the money on this project was short because of the war in Parma. The construction still had to stop simply because he didn't have enough to pay the rest of the workers. Therefore, people in later generation regards Pope Paul III as the hero of the dome construction where in reality, Michelangelo was the one who had continued the project unconditionally.

St. Peter's

V. Conclusion
There has been many copies of Michelangelo's Pieta even in the present days. It still possesses divinity and realism as many people recognized and appreciated. St. Peter has also been a prominent design of church domes all over the world. However, it remains to be the tallest dome in the world because people wanted to preserve the uniquness and devotion to the faith of St. Peter. Today, pilgrims from all over the world are visiting St. Peter's to show their devotion and faithfulness while others are just there to enjoy the maginificent artwork of the church.

VI. Personal Observations
The most surprising thing I found in doing this Michelangelo research is that Micehlangelo died on Feb 18, 1564, which is the day of my birthday. Nevertheless, I was also impressed about the fact that he was a great poet. Here is a great poem he wrote at the end of his life journey. I thought I would share:

"Giunto e gia 'l corso della via mia" (The voyage of my life)

The voyage of my life at last has reached across tempestuous sea,
in fragile boat the common port all must pass through to give cause and account of every evil, every pious deed.

VII. Bibliography
Bull, George, "Michelangelo", Penguin Books, 1995.

Hibbert, Christopher, "Rome", Penguin Books, 1985

King, Ross, "Michelangelo", Penguin Books, 2003

Paoletti, John and Radke, Gary, "Art in Renaissance Italy", Laurence King, 1997.

Vicchi, Roberta, "The Major Basilicas of Rome", Poligrafiche Bolis, 1999.

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

S Maria in Trastevere

Anna Schneider
Honors in Rome - Summer 2004

I. Introduction
The church of S. Maria in Trastevere is located in the heart of the Trastevere neighborhood, near Ponte Sisto. There have been religious meetings on this site for almost two thousand years; early Christians had a legend that an oil spring (fons olei) issued from the ground at this spot and flowed all the way to the Tiber, making this spot portentous. Pope St. Julius I built a church of this name here shortly after the time of Constantine, making it one of the oldest churches dedicated to Maria. The structure that exists today is not St. Julius’s basilica, though. Pope Innocent II tore down that building in 1140 and replaced it with his own, which (with a few renovations) is what one can visit today.

S. Maria in Trastevere

Pope Innocent II was born Gregorio Papereschi, a member of a rich and influential Italian family. At the papal election in early 1130, he got the minority of the vote of the College of Bishops, while his rival Anacletus II got the majority, creating a schism in the Catholic Church. Innocent fled to France, where he was confirmed as the rightful pope at the Synod of Etampes in late 1130, but Anacletus held sway over Rome. Innocent had significant support throughout Europe, especially in France and in the Holy Roman Empire—in the following years he presided over the crowning of the monarchs of both countries, and he was friends with Abbot Suger of St. Denis. In 1133 the Holy Roman Empire went to far as to invade Italy to assist Innocent in reaching the papal throne, but the operation was not able to oust Anacletus. Anacletus died in 1138 and the College of Bishops elected Victor IV to replace him. Victor was not as tenacious as Anacletus, though, and Innocent was able to persuade him to back down and let Innocent assume the papacy. The 10th Ecumenical Council, in 1139, finally laid the dispute to rest by declaring all of Anacletus’s acts to be null and reaffirming Innocent’s authority. Shortly after the Council, in 1140, Innocent started reconstruction of S. Maria in Trastevere as a demonstration of power. S. Maria in Trastevere was chosen because Anacletus had been the bishop of this church, and erasing his church was an important strategic step in erasing his memory.

II. Description
S. Maria in Trastevere is constructed on the basilica floor plan, with a central nave, an apse, and chapels along the sides. It is done in the Romanesque style, popular in the late 1000s and early 1100s, which is characterized by rounded arches, sturdy stonework, and heavy lines. The façade was added in 1702 by Carlos Fontana and features statues of Sts. Calixtus, Cornelius, Julius and Calepodius, who are buried inside and who were important in the early history of this church. On the ceiling inside is a painting of the Assumption of the Virgin that was done by Domenichino in 1617. The beautiful Cosmatesque marble floor is from a 19th-century restoration. Madonna della Clemenza, a 7th-century icon, is displayed in a chapel near the altar.

Midway up the apse is a series of seven mosaics by Pietro Cavallini dating from 1290. They tell the story of the life of Maria: Nativity of the Virgin, Annunciation, Nativity of Christ, Adoration of the Magi, Presentation at the Temple, Death of the Virgin, and, in the center of the apse, Donor in Adoration of the Virgin. Cavallini was an important figure in the early Renaissance, and the Florentine artist Giotto di Bondone was heavily influenced by his work. These mosaics are colorful and emotional, and represent Maria as a pretty young woman with delicate, elongated features.


Above the Cavallini mosaics, in the conch of the apse, is a large mosaic that was completed at the time of Innocent II. From left to right, it depicts Innocent II (holding a model of the church to identify him as the donor), St. Lawrence, St. Calixtus, Maria, Christ (centered on the axis of the nave), St. Peter, St. Cornelius, St. Julius, and St. Calepodius.

The figures of Maria and Christ are at once both very traditional and very experimental. First of all, the men’s faces are all done in the Romanesque style—they are shown straight on and have short thick lines, heavy eyebrows, and small expressionless mouths. In contrast, Maria’s face is shown with a slight side view, and she has an elongated nose and lighter, more emotional features in the Byzantine style; she looks more like Cavallini’s Maria than the contemporary of the other figures in her mosaic. Although it has been proposed that Cavallini restored her face, analysis of the mosaic’s structure shows that this could not have occurred. Rather, it appears that Maria’s features are copied from the icon of S. Maria Nova, which was 500 years old in Innocent’s time. (Remember S. Maria Nova, she’ll turn up again later.)

Despite the ancient reference made by Maria’s face, her pose is highly innovative. She is displayed as sponsa, the bride of Christ: she shares his throne, wears his crown, and embraces him. This “synthronos” pose begins to appear in several places in the early-mid 1100s, from Solomon and wife in a French bible to an illustration in the Song of Songs at Cambridge to a similar miniature in a German manuscript, but there is no strong evidence that this mosaic was influenced by any of these sources.

Christ holds an inscription saying “veni electa mea et ponam in te thronum meum,” and Maria holds one saying “leva eius sub capite meo et dextera illius amplesabitur me.” These are both paraphrases of the liturgy of the Feast of the Assumption festival, which is itself a paraphrase of the Song of Songs.


The nave is lined with mismatched marble columns, 11 on each side. Eight of these (S 5/6, N 3/4, N 5/7, N/S 8) have capitals that are spolia taken from the Baths of Caracalla. They feature the faces of either a young woman whose long hair is covered by a veil, or an older man with a full beard. In the volutes are small, androgynous, playful figures holding their fingers to their lips. Many of the capitals have been damaged over time, but all these figures are clearly discernable on S 5/6.

III. Function
By now you should be curious about what ties the main mosaic together. What could connect early icons of Maria, creative synthronos depiction, and the Song of Songs? The answer lies in the Feast of the Assumption. This festival began in Rome by 757 CE, and continues in some Lazio towns even today. It involves a midnight procession on August 15 in honor of the death of Maria. In Innocent II’s time, a host of clerical and secular officials would walk around Rome carrying the acheropita, an image of Christ not made by human hand. Icons, revered paintings of holy figures, were very important in Catholic worship at this time, and were treated almost as humans. The procession started in S. Giovanni Laterano, went to first to S. Maria Nova (where prayers were said and the icon’s feet were washed), continued to S. Adriano (where the icon’s feet were washed again), and passed S. Lucia in Orphea to end at S. Maria Maggiore. There was an important icon of Maria at S. Maria Nova (remember?), and the icons of Christ and Maria may have bowed to each other there.

Clearly, a main theme of the Feast of the Assumption is Christ’s devotion to his mother. This is reflected in the synthronos theme and in the inscriptions. Christ’s inscription translates as “…I will place in thee my throne,” which in the liturgy refers to Christ placing his throne in the heavenly city of Jerusalem. Liberties have been taken with the translation in the design of the mosaic, though. The depiction is of the slightly modified phrase “I will place thee in my throne,” of Christ honoring his mother by taking her into his throne in the most prominent part of the mosaic. This design supports the Cult of Maria, which was very popular at this time in the Catholic Church.

Innocent II chose to include in this mosaic many allusions to well-known Roman ceremonies and widely held beliefs. This was a smart choice for a pope trying to consolidate his power, because he knew that anyone who entered the church would see the mosaic and recognize its references and agree with his overall statement. Also, there is a more subversive side to this mosaic. When Anacletus was bishop of S. Maria in Trastevere he had the icon of Madonna della Clemenza in a very visible location. By emphasizing S. Maria Nova and relegating Madonna della Clemenza to a much less prominent place in the church, Innocent removed a reminder of Anacletus from visitor’s minds.

IV. Patron
Innocent II was by no means original when he chose to appropriate part of one monument and incorporate into his own. Spoliation had been occurring for centuries. The Theodosian Code of 438 CE put public monuments under the emperor’s protection; the emperor had the power to stop anyone else from damaging monuments, but he could also authorize the removal of spolia for special cases. In the 8th century, after the fall of the empire, a document called the Donation of Constantine was forged, which retroactively gave this same power to the pope. Most popes had a difficult time enforcing their control in that age of barbarian invasions, and in fact the Catholic Church did more looting than any invading force. Innocent realized, as many did, that using spolia was a cheap and easy way to advertise one’s position as Pope, and at this time there was not even a Roman Senate to object.

It is difficult for modern viewers to know what significance medieval churchgoers would have assigned to the three figures in the capitals. Considered in the context of the mosaic, the male/female pair could have referred to numerous religious examples of sponsa—Maria and Christ, Maria and Joseph, Solomon and wife, Adam and Eve, etc. Each of these interpretations would have reinforced the mosaic’s message of divine purity of the depicted partnership. On the other hand, the faces could have been intended to contrast with this message. Many viewers would have recognized the capitals as having come from the Baths of Caracalla, and might have thought that the male figure was the much-despised emperor Caracalla. Very little was known about him by this time because he was put under erasure, but sources say that he slept with his stepmother Julia. People familiar with these sources would then have seen the female figure as Julia, and this unholy union would contrast severely with the divine pair in the mosaic.

There are also several possible interpretations of the third figure. Generally, holding a finger to one’s lips meant the same things in the Middle Ages that it does now: silence or secrecy. It could be the silence of personal prayer or the secrecy associated with imperial power. Or, more abstractly, it could be the misleading ideas and self-deception (as the Catholics saw it) of the false worship conducted by the ancient pagan cultures. Medieval observers would have mixed and matched all these interpretations as they saw fit, but always with the conclusion that worship of Christ and Maria was right and holy.

V. Conclusion
As stated earlier, the synthronos theme was just becoming common when Innocent II commissioned the apse mosaic, and it was continued throughout Europe in the following decades. More than one hundred years later, this mosaic was so influential on Cavallini that he directly copied the style of Maria’s face for his own mosaic series. Even today, the beautiful rich colors and clear piety of the mosaic have persisted and inspire reverence in visitors to S. Maria in Trastevere.


The spolia columns are very interesting to the modern scholar, since we have access to information that people in the Middle Ages did not. In the Baths of Caracalla, the three figures did not symbolize any of the things I have proposed so far: they were in fact the Egyptian gods Isis, Serapis/Osiris, and Harpocrates/Horus. Egyptian gods were popular at the time of Caracalla, and Serapis was associated with the Library of Alexandria, so it would make sense for the ancient Romans to depict these gods on the capitals of their bath library. Isis was the goddess of fertility, her husband Serapis was the god of death, and their son Harpocrates was the god of the sun. Harpocrates was often depicted as a child with his finger to his lips, which implied childhood in Egyptian culture—nothing to do with silence.

VI. Personal Observations
I enjoyed learning about the Feast of the Assumption ceremony. It is fascinating to visualize hundreds of people parading through the streets of Rome behind a small and deteriorating painting, singing and praying and expressing their religious fervor. Such a festival was hard to imagine before coming to Rome, but now that I am here I understand how it could have happened. I can still walk down the same narrow and crowded streets, even though it would be impossible to precisely emulate their reverent fervor in the midst of motorbikes and postcard vendors.
A modern Feast of the Assumption ceremony in the US

VII. Bibliography
Kinney, Dale. “Spolia from the Baths of Caracalla in Sta. Maria in Trastevere.” The Art Bulletin, Vol. 68, No. 3. (Sep., 1986), pp. 379-397.

Kitsinger, Ernst. “A Virgin’s Face: Antiquarianism in Twelfth-Century Art.” The Art Bulletin, Vol. 62, No. 1. (Mar., 1980), pp. 6-19.

Monday, October 4, 2004

Hadrian's Villa: A Roman Masterpiece

Nate Somers
Honors in Rome -- Summer 2004

I. Introduction

Set among the rolling hills in the countryside of Campagna, Hadrian’s Villa graces an area larger than Pompeii with its many pools, baths, fountains and majestic classical architecture. The Villa’s chief architect, the Emperor himself, reinvented the idea of classical Greek architecture in Roman society. But before we examine the scope of Hadrian’s influence we must first become familiar with Rome and her faithful Emperor, Hadrian.

In 117 AD, Rome’s power and grandeur stretched further than ever before. The expansionist emperor Trajan led Roman armies across the Danube in the North and the Euphrates in the East. This is the climax of the Pax Romana, and during these years the Roman Empire enjoyed peace and order throughout its far-reaching states. Innovation and invention were at peak levels with the introduction of new marbles, gems, and other raw materials.

Now enter Emperor Hadrian, a successful army general, learned scholar and philosopher. As commander of the Eastern Army, he came to power after the son-less and dying Trajan adopted him. Though controversy predictably erupted among senators, it was quelled by Hadrian’s unanimous military support and fear of civil war.

Born Publius Aelius Hadrianus in AD 76, Hadrian quickly showed an aptitude for academics. He had an incredible memory that allowed him to learn geometry, arithmetic, literature and art at their highest levels. He had a fascination with all things Greek and was said to speak Greek more fluently than Latin, and in some cases demanded that his servants speak in Greek. Said to write speeches for Trajan, he was an eloquent and convincing speaker trained in the art of rhetoric – a quality that brought him success and political influence.

As Emperor, Hadrian spent almost half of his reign travelling the empire. From Britain to Syria, from Athens to Alexandria he founded cities, built roads and temples, erected monuments and heard the concerns Roman populace. This was tremendously important for our purposes. These travels shaped the way Hadrian wanted his Villa to take form.

In AD 118, building and remodelling began on a Republican Villa thirty kilometres outside Rome. While Hadrian was away, intense construction took place until about AD 125 when he returned. We know Hadrian moved his official residence to the Villa at this time based on letters he wrote, and was there until AD 128 when he left for his second major trip. More building took place once again and the Villa was completed in AD 133 or 134. Hadrian would remain at the Villa until he passed away in AD 138.
The Villa was probably inhabited for some time after Hadrian’s death based on the discovery of portraits of Antoninus Pius (138-161) and Marcus Aurelius (161-180). But sadly, as with many of the ancient Roman ruins, the Villa was quarried for the following fifteen hundred years. The twelfth century church Santo Stefano beyond the Villa’s southern boundary was almost entirely constructed with Villa marble, as was the church of San Pietro in Tivoli. Today almost no original art or statuaries remain, centuries of looting by treasure hunters has scattered it all over the world.

Fifteen hundred years of quarrying and almost two thousand years of weather leave the modern viewer struggling to imagine how Hadrian’s Villa would have stood and functioned. But fortunately for us, modern scholarship and research has been able to recreate an accurate picture of this ingenious Emperor’s awesome Villa.

II. Description

Set in the valley below Monti Tiburtini, Hadrian’s choice of location is interesting. Traditional villas, even through the renaissance, were located up on hills where the climate is cooler and the elevation gives the owner perspective as well as protection. Hadrian’s Villa would have been brutally hot in the summer, wet in the winter and without any sort of sweeping view. So why would he choose this site?

Opinions vary, but the most accepted view is that Hadrian’s architectural plans were plain too ambitious to fit on a hillside. The more than thirty massive buildings if placed on a hillside would render walking cumbersome and construction near impossible. The Villa’s tremendous water consumption also meant it had to be close to and below an aqueduct. In fact, Hadrian’s strategic and abundant use of water would more than make up for the warmer temperatures. The site also boasts numerous important building resources including travertine, lime, pozzolana (a type of sand) and tufa. Also worth noting is that the Villa is only 17 roman miles (28 kilometres) from Rome, much closer than had he decided to build up on a hillside.
Two southeast-northwest valleys, almost parallel and five hundred meters apart, define the length of the site. The valleys’ streams, now dry, are bordered by red tufa cliffs, giving the Villa separation and privacy. Between streams, the land is variable and irregular as is common in the Campagna region.

The irregular land therefore dictated the layout of Hadrian’s Villa. Unlike most villas of his age, there is no main or central axis. Rather, the uneven terrain forced the creation of several axes and though most buildings are symmetrical and some buildings are orthogonally related, there appears to be no central organization. Thus, if one were to look at just an aerial overview of the site, it would appear confused and poorly planned. But this was not the case.

To physically describe a site larger, and in some ways more complex, than Pompeii is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, we will focus on the Villa’s most innovative or unique structures, thereby capturing the importance of Hadrian’s Villa.

The first building we will discuss is the Pecile. It was built to represent the Greek Stoa Poecile in Athens which hosted the greatest Greek paintings. Hadrian’s Pecile probably served the same purpose with its dimensions measuring 232 by 97 meters. If one were to walk around the quadriportico seven times, he would walk two roman miles. This is in accordance with the rules of ambulatio, defined as the doctor recommended distance one should stroll after lunch. It was originally surrounded by four, nine meter walls with a colonnaded interior. These columns, along with the outer walls, supported a wooden roof. Installed in the center of the quadriportico lies a large rectangular pool measuring 100 by 25 meters. It is important to realize that while visiting the Pecile, there would have been four isolating walls, creating peaceful solitude for residents or guests.

Exiting the Pecile in the Northeast corner, one will walk into the Philosophers’ Chamber used for large meetings. This apsidal structure was once covered by a large vaulted ceiling, still somewhat intact today. Underneath the vault are seven niches, each one hosting a different philosopher’s statue. The entire structure was faced in marble, none of which remains today. Also lost, is the coffering that once decorated the ceiling.

Leaving once again to the northeast, we will enter the most famous structure at the Villa: the Maritime Theatre (photo 3). According the Epistles by Pliny the Younger, it was quite common to build a Villa within a Villa. The Maritime Theatre, also descriptively called the Island Enclosure, is exactly that, only on a grand and revolutionary scale. No comparable structure had been built before this. The large circular enclosure, forty-four meters in diameter (very close to Hadrian’s Pantheon at 43.5 meters) has its main entrance facing north, just as the Pantheon. Just inside the outer wall and surrounding the moat is a ring of forty unfluted Ionic columns. To cross the moat in Hadrian’s day, one would have stepped over wooden draw bridges that could be retracted, now we step over on a cement bridge. Running on a north-south axis, the island contains twenty-two defined spaces. The Room enclosures alternate beteen a semicircular plan and a square plan, an innovative layout unique to Hadrian’s villa. The island includes such facilities as: a lounge, a library with symmetrical side rooms, heated baths with a frigidarium, three suites with heated floors, washbasin, a subterranean art gallery, and a large fountain down the long axis. Connecting the baths to the moat is a stairway suggesting that the moat was also used as a natatio, or swimming pool. Researchers are confident that Hadrian himself designed the island based on his love for architecture, its similarities with the Pantheon and Pliny the Younger’s writing on the subject.

The Hospitalia and Imperial Triclinium form the heart of the Villa, housing and containing offices necessary for imperial business. The white and black mosaic tesserae paving, though some of the best preserved mosaics in the Villa, suggest that this was not in any way occupied by the emperor himself. However, the large atrium suggests that this was the main entrance to the Villa. Central to the function of the Villa, this area contained a library, rooms and many meeting rooms for the many magistrates and bureaucrats.

Just east of the Imperial Triclinium is the Piazza d’Oro (photo 4). As the name suggests, this is one of the most elaborate and ornate complexes on the grounds. Though centuries of looting and quarrying left it almost bare, during the 18th Century it was here that some of the most important art was found. Imperial portraits, meticulously carved friezes and intricate marble flooring were all found here. Most impressive however was the extensive use of water. At the rear is a large semicircular nympheum from which water poured out of seven niches. The water flowed out of yellow marble set upon purple marble platforms. The water then flowed into the fountains of the central chamber and then flowed down into more minor fountains below. Here in this court, one would be surrounded by lush gardens, impressed by fine statuary and refreshed by the sound of running water.

Just beyond Piazza d’Oro is the Canopus (photo 5). This long pool, measuring 119 by 18 meters, was built to remind Hadrian of the Canal built between the Nile and Alexandria, one of his favourite cities. The pool was colonnaded and each column was structurally linked to the next with alternating straight and semicircular marble (see picture titled Canopus). At the end is a large nympheum in the form of an exedrae called the Serapeum and would have been used as a dining room. Hadrian’s Villa was known for the parties thrown at the Canopus; it was the place to be.

And, finally, the all-important Roman baths. There are the Small Baths and the Grand Baths, however, again the nomenclature is misleading. The grand baths were larger, less refined and thus used by servants, guards and other middle class workers. The Small baths were sophisticated and one of the most luxurious areas of the Villa. Let us further examine.

The façade is a Republican vestige incorporated into Hadrian’s new Villa. Oriented north, a common theme for Hadrien, one enters into an obviously atypical Roman structure. The octagonal chamber with walls that alternate between flat and concave surface continue Hadrian’s architectural theme. Overhead is a dome ceiling and below are the remnants of opus sectile mosaic. The divergent curvature of this room and the surrounding rooms create an artistic rather than functional environment. The circular planning of the baths is consistent with the other Hadrianic structures, such as the Maritime Theatre, but again is unique. We have no knowledge of any other Villa during this time of similar style. In fact, if one compares the layout of the Villa with its many divergent axis and pools to the floor plan of the Small baths, he will discover that they are strikingly similar, almost as if the baths were a model of the Villa itself.

Left out of this section was Hadrian’s art collection. Thousands of statues, portraits, mosaics, and frescoes have been completely destroyed or stolen from the site. From what we have regrouped into museums today (a good chunk of it’s in the Capitoline!), it is apparent that Hadrian boasted one of the most extensive and varied private art collections of all time. No original art remains at the site today, thus when visiting the Villa, one must keep this in mind and try to imagine the grandiosity of Hadrian’s Villa.

III. Function

Hadrian, the most powerful man in the world, needed a Villa worthy of his title.
A proper villa is a place for restful leisure, or otium. Based on Pliny the Younger’s extensive writing on the ‘proper villa’, we have a good idea of what a wealthy Roman would expect from his Villa. Key to a villa is the setting. Mountains, sea, climate and seasonal winds all come in to play. Nature is sculpted by gardeners, watermen and architects, transforming the raw into the refined. Villas can for the most part sustain themselves, with farmlands (which interestingly, both commoners and aristocrats worked), ample firewood, cattle, wineries and granaries. Jet fountains and pools, distinguishing and sustaining features of any villa, are artfully incorporated into the landscape and design of the Villa.

The overall layout of a villa, contrary to renaissance villas, is asymmetrical. Each buildings function will determine its relative position. Baths face south-west to capture the heat of the day. Temples often face north. Residential areas will open up in the direction of the summer breeze. Libraries and work areas capture an intended view. Every detail is taken into consideration and each building deliberately placed. Indoor activity takes place on the ground floor, although there are usually upper levels, as is definitely the case in Hadrian’s Villa. Every room is designed for a specific purpose, suites for reception, dining rooms, bathing rooms, reading rooms, and working rooms. All rooms have their associated staff and kitchens. Courtyards provide light and space for gardens and fountains. More secluded satellite areas are reached by colonnades. Theatres and Gladiator arenas provide entertainment for all. If one’s wanting an isolated contemplative area, step into the quadriportico, or into a satellite courtyard. No surface goes undecorated. Frescoes cover dining room walls often painted to give the feeling that one is outdoors. Mosaics cover the floors. Statues, carvings and portraits are placed throughout the villa.

Hadrian’s Villa in terms of its function is not very different from other imperial villas. Functionally, Hadrian needed a Villa from which he could run the empire. What sets Hadrian’s Villa apart is the unique architecture and enormous size.

IV. Patron

Emperor Hadrian, the patron, wanted a Villa as impressive as his empire was. Because he conducted official business from the Villa, many guests of stature and leaders from other states would need to visit the Villa. Thus, Hadrian needed the Villa to impress not only himself, but the many guests. Taking advantage of his newly strengthened lines of communication, he was able to acquire rare and valuable materials from all over the empire. Artisans, watermen, gardeners and architects were all kept on the Villa as full time staff. Hadrian no doubt completed his goal of creating a powerful impression on all his visitors; his visitors are today still amazed by the size and grandeur of the Villa.

V. Conclusion

Hadrian’s Villa had an enormous impact on the design of renaissance villas. During the renaissance, the villa as an architectural conception was revived. The only problem for the renaissance architects was that in their search for otium they did not have many examples of Roman villas. They were forced to draw on writings by Pliny the Younger, Cicero and Horace. The extraordinary influence exerted by Hadrian’s Villa on renaissance villa and landscape design derives from the fact that its owner and creator was known through these surviving writings.

Many prominent renaissance architects visited and sketched the Villa. Bramante and his design for the Belvedere Court is an obvious example. Known to have visited Hadrian’s Villa, he designed the magnificent Belvedere Court for Pope Julius II. The Belvedere court with its gardens, fountains, areas for spectacles, accommodations for the display of statuary, and long passages linking separate structures all remind one of a peaceful roman Villa. But more convincing still is Bramante’s interplay of straight and curved lines, a unique feature to Hadrian’s Villa but certainly not to renaissance architecture.

Another good example of Hadrian’s renaissance influence is Raphael’s design of Villa Madama. Set on the slope of Monte Mario, this villa enjoys a wide view of the Tiber valley. Raphael, like the Romans, worked with the land to produce a seamless intersection between nature and buildings. This villa had a circular colonnaded courtyard, entrance facing north with passages to a secret garden. Circular courtyards were unprecedented in fifteenth century architecture. What makes this courtyard even more unique is that it was colonnaded. Among the available ancient sources for these renaissance architects to draw from, there are two at Hadrian’s Villa: the Island Enclosure and the Circular hall.

Thus, because of the lack of written history and surviving roman villas, Hadrian’s villa became a key resource for renaissance architects. From the above examples and the many more, we can see that Hadrian had a disproportionate influence on renaissance architecture.

VI. Personal Observations

In researching this topic I had to do general research on Roman villas. The amount of thought, time and a resources that went into just designing a villa blew me away. The way Roman’s respected and incorporated nature into their villa experience, with water, gardens, views, and even down to the direction of seasonal winds, really gave me an appreciation for their architecture.

VII. Bibliography

Adembri, Benedetta. "Hadrian's Villa". Electa: Milan, 2000.

MacDonald, Willam. "Hadrian's Villa and It's Legacy". Yale University Press: New Haven, 1995.

MacDonald, Willam. "Hadrian's Circles".

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