Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hadrian's Villa Gets the Limelight

The Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138 CE) left us many monuments for which he is remembered. The most famous of course being the Pantheon, but he also left us with the Temple of Venus and Roma and Hadrian's Wall, to name a few. Those monuments were all meant for the public in some degree, but one of his most stunning architectural creations was meant for himself. Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli (Roman Tibur) was built by Hadrian as his own personal sanctuary away from Rome. Make no mistake, being emperor was a busy job and we can imagine Hadrian's Villa teaming with servants, courtiers and advisers, but compared to the hustle and bustle of Rome, the villa was certainly a place where Hadrian could relax.

Hadrian's Villa not only featured advanced architecture (the famous 'pumpkin' domes criticized by Apollodorus) but rich works of art as well. In building his magnificent country retreat, Hadrian wanted to recreated some of the many places he had traveled to throughout the empire. The huge pool was called the Canopus was named after a site in Egypt on the Nile and the copies of Greek statuary, especially the caryatids, recall his love for all things Greek. The villa is in ruins today, but from the ruins and art works found we can imagine what a breathtaking place Hadrian's Villa once was.

A new exhibit at Hadrian's Villa will be showing some of the hundreds of artifacts found there over the years. Showing those artifacts in the context of where they were found is a great way to educate the public about the ancient world. I know I've said it a thousand times, but without context, artifacts loose a lot of their meaning. I think this exhibit is a unique opportunity to showcase ancient artifacts in their original ancient setting. The Mediterranean world is lucky enough to be able to put on such a unique exhibit and I look forward to seeing more exhibits like this in the future.