Maritime Theatre at Hadrian’s Villa, Tivoli


(jazz music) Dr. Harris: This is a place
no one would have been unless you were really
close to the emperor. We’re in the so-called Maritime Theatre, but this is really Hadrian’s inner sanctum inside his enormous villa complex. Dr. Frischer: It’s a circular
version of the Roman house. You have an atrium,
even with an impluvium. You have bedrooms off one side. You have a tablinum at
the end of the main axis. It’s a classic Roman
house, but as a circle, instead of as a square or rectangle. Dr. Harris: I’m going to
unpack that a little bit. Dr. Fischer: Okay. Dr. Harris: We have the
axiality of a Roman house. Dr. Frischer: Yes. Dr. Harris: We have a view
from outside into the interior toward the atrium, which
would’ve been open to the sky and would’ve collected water
into a impluvium below, through a slanted roof or compluvium. Then, behind there a
tablinum, a kind of office or meeting space, but
in the form of a circle. It takes something which was a rectangle and encircles it by a moat. As we look toward the end through the axis that Hadrian aligned for
us, our eye moves past a shape that we don’t expect in ancient Roman architecture, an
oval space surrounded by columns. Dr. Frischer: Hadrian had the
idea of having this circle and then breaking the space
up into smaller parts. He inevitably generated
ovals and we can see ovals or fragments of ovals all throughout. We know that this was seen by Ligorio in the 16th century,
who surveyed the site. Cardinal Barberini had
Contini publish the notes and plan of Ligorio, so this was known just at the beginnings
of the Baroque movement in Roman architecture in the city of Rome with people like Borromini. Dr. Harris: Circular
buildings were something that Hadrian loved. This is the same size as the Pantheon and he’s building this the
same time that he’s building the Pantheon. This idea of the totality of
the empire, or the totality of the world in the figure of the emperor. Dr. Frischer: The circle, according to the ancient philosophers was the perfect form. There was nothing more
perfect than a circle or a sphere. I think that appealed to him
and then just the challenge of taking that rectangular form of a house and making it circular
must have appealed to him on aesthetic grounds. Dr. Harris: If we look at
the floor of the Pantheon or the walls of the Pantheon
at the marble revetments, we see circles and squares, these basic geometric shapes – Dr. Frischer: Yes, in a
creative sort of conflict giving rise to new forms. Dr. Harris: Hadrian seems
to have really wanted his privacy. Dr. Frischer: Yes, looking
back at imperial history, he knew that there were a
lot of attempts on lives of emperors, but just in general, emperors were always being pestered wherever they went. There’s an anecdote about Hadrian while he was traveling. A woman stopped to
petition him and he said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have
time, I’m too busy.” Then she said, “Well
then stop being emperor.” Emperors were expected to be available and here he could get
away and he could invite just the people that he wanted to be with, whether for business purposes or social. Dr. Harris: So we have
bedrooms here, toilets. There are rooms for bathing that you would step down into,
so they’d be at the level of the moat. As you sat in the bathwater,
you could look out at the water around. Dr. Frischer: You could
push your duck over into the moat. (laughter) Dr. Harris: It’s hard
to imagine how luxurious this was now, but as
we look up, we can see where this place got the
name that it has now, because we see relief
sculpture with marine figures and mythological figures
having to do with the water. Dr. Frischer: There are
some pieces preserved here, on the entablature, and even better pieces in the antiquarium on the site. Dr. Harris: It’s a modest scale. This isn’t enormous. It really feels like a retreat. Dr. Frischer: I think that
everything Hadrian did is on the human level. I always say to people when
they get to the Pantheon, “Stop on the threshold, hold
your head straight ahead, “and you can just see in
your peripheral vision “the oculus, the floor, and
the sides of the rotunda.” It’s at the limits of the human. Here this is a more
intimate, comfortable space. Hadrian was always dealing
in spaces with a lot of pomp and circumstance
and very formal and stiff. So here, it was on a
scale of a smallish house in Pompeii, a middle class kind of house, so he could really feel,
I think, more relaxed. Dr. Harris: So, an informal
place for the emperor of Rome. Dr. Frischer: Informal,
but we shouldn’t say not luxurious, because it’s
all marble, it’s all carved, it’s expensive materials,
and the workmanship and craftsmanship is of the highest level. The fact that it’s small doesn’t mean there’s any sacrifice in quality. Who knows what sculpture was here and what the fittings were,
what the furniture was? He could’ve trumped the
smallness of the space with the lavishness of
materials and the craftsmanship of those materials. Dr. Harris: Something
tells me that was the case. (jazz music)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *