Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California


  • Author(s): Young, Antonia Pham
  • Advisor(s): Hallett, Christopher H
  • et al.

This dissertation explores the intersection of ancient Roman art, architecture, and literature. In particular, it examines the convergence of art and nature in Roman wall painting and garden design in three domestic, and historically significant, sites in Italy. Chapter 2 examines the painted garden room from Livia’s Villa at Prima Porta; Chapter 3 investigates the garden imagery of the Auditorium of Maecenas; Chapters 4 and 5 encourage a new approach to interpreting the garden design of the Villa of the Poppaei at Oplontis. In each instance we see a Roman approach to nature that always involves both labor and ars, in the creation of what I call “green architecture.” Because villa architecture puts into implicit question the ambiguous relationship between nature and artifice, its critical study allows us a more nuanced understanding of gardens within the broader Roman imagination.

Pushing critical scholarship into new and fertile territory, my dissertation attempts to think of the Roman garden as posing a series questions that exceed our current archaeological emphasis on typologies or the social historian’s focus on status and self-representation in the Roman garden. Toward this end, my analysis tacks between close readings of these sites and contemporary Latin literature in order to situate what is at work and at stake in Roman gardens—artistically, culturally, and historically—at the level of both “text” and “context.”

Finally, because my dissertation bears upon, and engages with, broader, more abiding debates within the discipline about “the Natural,” mimesis, picturesque and pastoral landscapes, and gardens as liminal spaces or where boundaries between interior and exterior worlds collapse, I also consider what difference Roman gardens make for art historical scholarship today.

Main Content
Current View