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Art and Identity in the Gardens and Garden Paintings on the Bay of Naples
March 14, 2019
New York, NY United States
Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
AIA Society: New York City
Lecturer: Maryl B. Gensheimer
When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE, Roman cities along the Bay of Naples were completely destroyed by volcanic debris. Elite retreats for leisure, like the stunning seaside villas at Oplontis and Stabiae, were also devastated as they were buried under a thick blanket of lapilli and ash. New excavations are underway, however, and their results help to better understand the design and daily life of these ancient spaces.
This paper, which focuses on the Villas Arianna and San Marco at Stabiae and Villa A at Oplontis, explores the social rationale for the luxurious villas that once dotted the landscape around the Bay of Naples. Looking beyond the villa architecture itself, this paper (and the larger book project from which it is drawn) analyzes the art historical and archaeological evidence for elite self-aggrandizement as seen through domestic decoration in all art media. The evidence addressed ranges from wall painting to silverware, and from mosaic to water features. Particular emphasis will be paid to the villas’ gardens and to their adjacent suites embellished with virtuoso garden paintings that emulated the natural world outside, thereby collapsing the boundaries between art and artifice. The blurred lines between real and fictive space – that is, between the gardens and the representations of them in painting – are argued to be particularly powerful tools with which to contextualize these villas within their regional, cultural, and sociopolitical landscape.
Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:
M. Gensheimer. 2018. “Fictive Gardens and Family Identity in the House of Neptune and Amphitrite.” In Visual Histories: Visual Remains and Histories of the Classical World. Papers in Honour of R.R.R. Smith, edited by Catherine Draycott, Rubina Raja, Katherine Welch, and William Wootton. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
K. von Stackelberg. 2009. The Roman Garden: Space, Sense, and Society. New York: Routledge.
M. Zarmakoupi. 2014. Designing for Luxury on the Bay of Naples: Villas and Landscapes c. 100 BCE – 79 CE. Oxford: Oxford University Press.