- Designing for Luxury on the Bay of Naples: Villas and Landscapes (c.100 bce–79 ce) by Mantha Zarmakoupi
The Roman villa has been the focus of much scholarship since the rediscovery of Hadrian’s Villa in the Renaissance and the excavation of the Villa of the Papyri in the mid-eighteenth century. This new study, a revised version of the author’s 2007 doctoral thesis, is an important contribution to the study of Roman villas, architecture, design, and cultural change. It will be particularly useful for scholars working on Roman architecture and gardens. In this book, Zarmakoupi examines how the intersection of Hellenistic and Roman cultural and architectural traditions resulted in the development of the luxury villa (villa expolita) on the Bay of Naples.
In the first chapter, Zarmakoupi focuses on a design analysis of the villas, looking at specific aspects of their architecture and landscape architecture, while also considering the cultural significance of these aspects of the built environment. She looks at architecture as a culturally informed, dynamic process. Her focus on design and related cultural processes marks a new approach to the study of Roman villas. Previous studies of Roman villas have typically focused on economic aspects or on regional examples.
Zarmakoupi briefly describes and discusses the architecture and landscape architecture of five specific villas—the Villa of the Papyri, Villa A Oplontis, Villa Arianna A, Villa Arianna B, and Villa San Marco—in chapter 2. This chapter should prove useful in an undergraduate or graduate course on Roman architecture or on Pompeii, where a concise English-language introduction to luxury villas is needed. Much of the recent literature in European languages is well digested here for Anglophone audiences. Chapters 3 through 7 focus on specific architectural and garden elements of the luxury villas and how these various different architectural elements (the cryptoporticus, the porticoed garden, water, triclinia, and other settings for dining) were original Roman creations that resulted from the cultural negotiation between Rome and the Hellenistic East. In each chapter there is a useful discussion of the architectural vocabulary of the key terms that the ancient authors and scholars have used to describe these spaces. These discussions highlight the complex and nuanced meanings of the ancient terminology, and also the problems that can arise when scholars use Greek and Latin words as technical terms.
Chapter 4 and the appendix discuss the role of porticoed gardens in luxury villas. This chapter is a significant contribution because it places gardens and landscape architecture at the heart of discussions about luxury villas. [End Page 439] Zarmakoupi argues that landscape architecture in the form of porticoed gardens was integral to these villas, to their design, and also to their cultural and intellectual conceptualization by their Roman owners. The inclusion of porticoed gardens in the luxury villa was another Roman adaptation of Hellenistic culture and built environment. Her inclusion of the gardens continues the relatively new trend in scholarship that acknowledges the significance of landscape architecture in the Roman built environment.
Chapter 5 focuses on the role and significance of water features in the villa. The discussion of water and gardens reminds us how ephemeral the luxury villa was; gardens and water features had to be maintained constantly even when a villa was not in use. Chapter 6 focuses on triclinia and dining facilities. Because convivial dining was important for building social and political ties, the staging of such dinners, especially their physical environment, was very important. Zarmakoupi argues that dining was set in multiple locations within a villa, allowing for the manufacturing and managing of a proper setting. In this regard, landscape was again fundamental to creating an interesting vista for diners to gaze upon or as a background for stage entertainment.
Finally, chapter 7 considers the patterns that emerge within the “conceptualization of the architectural design of these villas” (213) and reviews the trends in the study of the luxury villa by...