FUNCTION AND MEANING OF HADRIAN'S VILLA
2. Wall revetments
They are far less preserved than the pavements, and have been classified in five different groups:
Many rooms in Hadrian's Villa were decorated with frescoes, but very few are preserved. The best one is in room NS3 of the GARDEN STADIUM (n. 21) (fig. 12): it is one of the few times when it is possible to reconstruct the whole drawing, with large panels and different colours.
Many fragments of fresco, which urgently need cleaning and restoration, are visible almost everywhere in the Villa: in the Cryptoporticus of the IMPERIAL TRICLINIUM (n. 7) still survives part of a checker pattern,
2 - Marble revetment
Many rooms in Hadrian's Villa still bear the traces of the holes for the 'grappe', nails which held in place the marble revetment, often reaching up to the ceiling (only in noble buildings). Marble wall revetment probably was the prevailing type of wall decoration, as opus sectile was for pavements, but its percentage is still unknown. These traces are particularly well preserved in the CASINO WITH SEMICIRCULAR ARCADES (n. 20) (fig. 14). In its main hall TE20 are visible large hollows in the walls, which were meant for marble reliefs; all around we can still see the holes for the grappe, which draw the contours of several other panels.
Holes for the grappe are also visible in the rooms of PIAZZA D'ORO (n. 15) which surrounded the main exedra PO20, and in other rooms of the SMALL BATHS (n. 24), and of the CANOPUS (n. 28). In the ACCADEMIA (n. 30), there is a room which was never photographed before, and had hollows for
It also seems that the shape of the rooms determined the use of a certain type of revetment. In narrow niches or apses it was difficult to fix marble panels without cutting them in many pieces. In those cases, fresco was usually preferred, and the painter could simulate marble panels with an amazing trompe l'oeil effect.
3 - Mosaic
It is very rare, and the most outstanding example is the ceiling with mosaic, shell and glass decoration in the CRYPTOPORTICUS WITH MOSAIC VAULT (n. 13) (fig. 16). This ceiling dates back to the age of Sulla and belonged to the previous republican Villa. The Cryptoporticus originally was a basis villae, which later was enclosed in the hadrianic structures.
Fragments of mosaic decoration, mainly using glass tesserae, were found in other buildings of Hadrian's Villa: in the GREEK LIBRARY (n. 10), in the LATIN LIBRARY (n. 9), in the nymphaeum of the COURTYARD OF THE LIBRARIES (n. 11), in PIAZZA D'ORO (n. 15), in the dome of the CANOPUS (n. 28) and in the SMALL BATHS (n. 24).
Almost nothing is known about mosaic revetment in Hadrian's Villa, which has never been studied. As we can see in Pompeii and Herculaneum, mosaic revetment was used in the niches and apses of nymphaea, fountains or thermal buildings, where the presence of water discouraged the use of stucco o frescoes.
4 - Stucco
The most famous stucco ceiling is the one preserved in the GREAT BATHS (n. 26) (fig. 17), which decorated the vault of a vast hall and was reproduced by many Renaissance artists. Centuries ago it was much better preserved, as we can see from the drawings of Piranesi or Giovanni da Udine.
Unfortunately it seems that english noblemen used to shoot at the stucco to make it fall and get a beautiful souvenir of their Grand Tour. Some round stucco panels were cut away in ancient times, and probably are in some private collection.
Another fragment is visible in a small room underneath the Casino Fede, and has been recently restored (fig. 18), bringing back traces of colour. Ponce and later Gusman published a series of drawings of stucco ceilings, but it seems that they are fakes and modern creations. Other ceilings were inexplicably neglected, such as those in the Palestra: two rooms later enclosed in a Casale of the XVIII century still have part of the stucco ceiling, but we have no ancient drawing of them, although they were easily visible. They have been recently studied by prof. Mariette de Vos with the University of Trento. Caterina Ognibeni reconstructed their decoration.
Quite well preserved is another fragment of stucco ceiling located in the so-called Hay-loft of the ACCADEMIA (n. 30) (fig. 19), which was reproduced in an ancient drawing now in the Royal Library of Windsor, when it was in a much better state of preservation.
In the drawing we can see the central part of the ceiling, which today has completely disappeared. The trellis drawing of the outer part of the ceiling is still visible, but needs to be restored and cleaned; some traces of the original colours could probably come out.
5 - Tartari (pseudo-grotto imitating stalactites)
Tartari were often used to decorate fountains, as we can see in the nymphaeum with semicircular steps at the southern end of the GARDEN STADIUM (n. 21), or again in a niche of the CANOPUS (n. 28). Tartari will be used again to decorate fountains and nymphaea in the great renaissance villas which imitated the roman ones: firs of all, the Villa d'Este at Tivoli.
As far as wall revetments in the Villa are concerned, we have to acknowledge that very little is left. All ancient drawings, mainly of the XIX century, which pretend to reproduce ancient frescoes are not reliable, but it is possible that some frescoes are in a private collection, even if there is no written record about them. The drawings of the stuccoes as we said mostly were fake reconstructions. A study of the frescoes still surviving in situ at Villa Hadriana has never been done. Interesting results will surely come out from a graphic restitution of wall marble revetments, based on the holes left by the nails or 'grappe' supporting the panels.