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Works of Art and Building Materials

The young Furietti Centaur
The young Furietti Centaur

Hadrian's Villa was, as an imperial palace, designed to have no equal and no superior, and the villa was adorned with the very best of what the Roman empire had to offer in terms of works of art and buildings materials. It is very probably that Hadrian himself took active part in the selection of works of art for the villa.

Almost everything of value has been removed from the villa since late antiquity, but many objects that are known to come from the Villa Hadriana are now dispersed in museums and collections throughout Europe. It is probable that even more have either been lost completely or is now listed without known provenance. Enough survive to illustrate the incredible lavishness of the decoration of the Villa.

Over 500 statues are definitely from the villa, and that can only be a part of the statuary of the ancient villa. Some of the more famous statues are in the Capitoline Museums (Harpocrates, Furietti Centaurs and Faun in Red Marble) and in the Vatican Museums. Most statues have been removed from the villa, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, and many more have probably ended in the merciless limekilns in the middle ages.

The works of art that have survived show each building have had a specific significance that was reflected in the selection of the statues and other decorations of the building.

Between the buildings and around the villa were a series of open spaces, gardens and parks adorned with statues, nymphaeums and fountains.

Pavements in opus sectile were found in many parts of the villa. The designs were most geometric patterns made of squares, triangles and lozenges in polychrome and often rare and precious kinds of marble, sometimes mixed with coloured glass and ivory. Opus sectile was a very costly technique and was only used in the most prestigious parts of the villa.

Mosaic with Drinking Doves
Mosaic with Drinking Doves

Mosaics were used throughout the complex, mostly in less prestigious areas, such as the dorms for lower ranking guests to the villa, but some important rooms were also decorated with special mosaics. The most famous mosaics from Hadrian's Villa are two emblemata in the Hellenistic style, the "Mosaic with Drinking Doves" and the "Mosaic with Theatrical Masks", both now in the Capitoline Museums. Both emblems are made with a technique known as opus vermiculatum, using minute tesserae. Pliny the Younger wrote about a famous Greek floor mosaic with an emblem with drinking doves in the middle of a so-called "unswept floor". The mosaic from Hadrian's Villa could be the original Greek work or it could be a copy. Emblemata are easily removed due to their size.

Most of the mosaics still in situ at the Villa Hadriana are either black and white mosaics in the Italian style, geometric and/or with floral designs, or polychrome geometric designs. Often they are not of good quality. Very beautiful and well preserved black and white mosaics are found in the Hospitalia, but most of the remaining mosaics are just fragments, usually found at the edges near the walls. Many are found in the Residential Villa and in the Golden Court.

The walls in many of the central buildings have been decorated with polychrome marble veneer, but almost nothing has survived. Other environments had the walls covered with layers of plaster, sometimes painted with frescoes with geometric or naturalistic motifs, sometimes decorated with elaborate floral patterns in stucco-work.

Unfortunately, the wall paintings of the Villa Hadriana are generally badly preserved. Fragments of some geometric designs are found in the cryptoporticus under the Buildings with Peristyle Pool, covered with graffiti and tags, some centuries old, some very recent. Other wall paintings are found in the rooms in front of the Praetorian Pavilion.

Ceilings were often decorated with plaster, painted or with designs in stucco-work. Little has survived as the ceilings of most buildings are collapsed, but there are noteworthy pieces in the Large Baths and to a lesser degree in the so-called Imperial Triclinium.

This article has been split into 7 separate sections. Use the menu below to jump to another section.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Meaning of the Individual Buildings
  3. The Building Process
  4. Works of Art and Building Materials
  5. The Villa after Hadrian
  6. Literature and Links
  7. Photographs

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This page is linked under the names "Hadrian's Villa", "Villa of Hadrian", "Villa Hadriana", "Villa Adriana" and "Hadrians Villa".

Copyright © 2004 René Seindal, last changed 2004-10-19

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