Winged Wonderland: Avian Symbolism and Seasonality in the Villa of Livia Garden Room Open Access

Metz, Madeleine Marie (2015)

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Augustus, first Emperor of Rome, created a visual language designed to demonstrate his commitment to traditional Roman civic virtues and creation of a new Golden Age of Rome. The painted garden in the house of his wife, Livia, is an idealized depiction of his new era of peace and prosperity expressed via specific species of plants and birds. Previous research on the fresco has demonstrated the plants depicted would not have been able to bloom and fruit at the same time of year, but in Livia's garden room, all of the plants are at their peak. This theme is traditionally interpreted by scholars as a symbolic illustration of the fertile and prosperous reign of Augustus. However, there had not yet been any extensive discussion of the painted animals. The various species of birds present in the fresco were identified, along with their migration routes, so that it may be seen if all of the species represented could have been together in Rome in the same season. 21 out of 69 total birds were re-identified from the original classification, and the current species now include a Cattle Egret and a Purple Gallinule, each of which used to be classified as Pigeons under the old identification. All of the birds are spring and summer visitors to Italy or live there year round, setting the reign of Augustus in a particularly lush time of the year normally teeming with floral and faunal abundance. Virgil, Ovid, and Horace write on the Golden Age of Augustus, where all is eternal spring, and the migration patterns of the bird species depicted in the garden room of the Villa of Livia link these textual and artistic messages.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Site and Prior Research 1

Villa at Prima Porta 1

Garden Painting 3

Gardens 5

Garden Room Iconography 6

Chapter 2: Arboreal Symbolism: Examples 8

Arbutus 8

Laurel 8

Myrtle 9

Pomegranate 10

Oak 11

Date Palm 12

Chapter 3: Avian Analysis 14

Partridge 14

Dove 14

Egret 15

Sparrow 16

Peacock 17

Purple Gallinule 18

Blackbird 18

Chapter 4: Seasonality Conclusions 19

Bibliography 20

Ancient Sources 20

Modern Sources 21

Catalogue 25

List of Figures 55

Figures 62

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