known as the Imperial Villa or the Villa of Augusta, this was one of
the most sumptuous villas at Boscotrecase. It was built by Agrippa,
friend of the Emperor Augustus and husband of his daughter Julia. Construction of the villa probably started around 20 BC. In 11 BC, the year after Agrippa's death, the villa passed into the hands of his posthumously born infant son, Agrippa Postumus. The child was only a few months old, and the completion of the villa would most likely have been overseen by Julia, Agrippa's widow and the child's mother.
The villa was large; the overall width of the excavated area measured about 50 m, and this covered only part of the whole complex. Unfortunately
the villa was re-buried by lava during the eruption in April 1906 (the
photos above and right show the effects of the eruption on Boscotrecase).
The open court (a) had a series of small rooms along its southern and
eastern sides (rooms 1 to 13), but the more important rooms were to the
west, ranged around peristyle (b) and opening onto a long terrace (d)
which must have had magnificent views over the Bay of Naples below.
In the middle of each central panel is a small landscape. The landscape on the north wall (pictured right and below) depicts a tower
outside of which some sort of ceremony appears to be taking place.
Cubiculum 16, also known as the 'red room'
(pictured opposite) can be viewed in the National Archaeological Museum
in Naples. The decoration consists of red panels with elegant
decorative borders above a lower decorated black frieze.
The upper zone (a detail from which is pictured below) is decorated with
panels containing swags and stylized flowers on a red ground with
highly detailed borders.
The central panels on each wall contain large scenes; the scene from the
north wall is pictured right. The brushwork, had it been painted in the
19th century, might almost have been described as impressionistic (a
detail of the brushwork is pictured below).
The decoration consisted of large red panels framing a central mythological scene on each wall. The
red panels contain thin white columns with sirens sustaining fine
garlands that emanate from the sides of the panel (pictured above and
below). Above the panels was an upper yellow zone with small plaques similar to those found in the 'black room'. The two surviving mythological scenes are pictured right.
The scene on the west wall depicts the tale of Polyphemus and Galatea
(pictured right). The picture shows the cyclops Polyphemus sitting on a
rocky outcrop, tending his herd of goats. Polyphemus has stopped
playing the syrinx (panpipe) which he holds in his
right hand, perhaps because he has noticed the sea nymph Galatea seated
on a dolphin below him.
In Ovid's version of the story
Galatea was listening to Polyphemus's song professing his love for
her while she hid with her lover, Acis, the son of Faunus (Pan) and the river nymph Symaethis. Acis is not in
the painting although his father Pan may be shown lower right, in the
form of a statue on a tall base.
the top right of the painting Polyphemus is shown hurling a boulder
after a departing ship. In the story Polyphemus does kill an escaping
Acis by a boulder, but the incident with the ship probably refers to a
completely different encounter with Odysseus, when he and his crew landed on Cyclops
in search of food and drink.
The villa was accidentally discovered on March 23, 1903, when the Circumvesuviana, the railway line that runs from
Naples around the base of Mount Vesuvius, was under construction. The
owner of the property on which the villa was
found, Cavaliere Ernesto Santini, partially excavated it between 1903
and 1905 with the help of the Italian archaeologist, Matteo Della Corte.
The peristyle was colonnaded on all four sides and had a large central
garden. The columns of the colonnade were of stuccoed brickwork while
the walls of the peristyle were decorated in the second style with
paintings of columns, creating the illusion of a double portico.
it is the decoration of the adjoining cubicula that is the most
interesting feature of the villa.These rooms were lavishly decorated in
the third style
which flourished during the reign of Augustus. While
earlier artists focused on creating an illusion of architectural depth
with solid architectural forms, the artists at Boscotrecase presented
more whimsical elements.
The frescoes, which are among the finest existing examples of third style
Roman wall painting, must have been painted shortly after the death of
Agrippa. They were removed at the time of excavation and divided between
the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Archaeological Museum
Cubiculum 15, referred to as the 'black room', opens off the east end of the terrace (d).
deep red decorative frieze serves as the base from which a series of
white columns appears to rise against a black background (pictured left
and below). The columns support pavilions, candelabra, tripods, and a
cornice that runs around the room.
In the side panels of the north wall are two pairs of swans. The swans
(pictured left) were sacred to Apollo
, the patron
god of Augustus, and the symbol of his victory over Mark Antony at the
Battle of Actium. It was originally thought that the swans may have been
linked to the small portrait medallions (pictured left) in the central
panel which support the thin decorative pediment, but rather than being
portraits of a male member of the imperial family they now appear to be
the portraits of two different women, possibly Augustus's wife Livia and
his daughter Julia.
has a white mosaic floor with a central black and white decorative panel. In the south west corner of the room a doorway leads to the adjoining cubiculum 16.
has doorways on both its east and west sides. The doorway
in the south east corner leads back to cubiculum
15 while the doorway in
the south west corner leads to the exedra
17 which links the terrace
(d) with the peristyle
Near the western limit of the excavation a doorway opens off the north
side of the terrace onto cubiculum
19. The decoration in this room, which is also referred to as the 'mythological room',
not survived in such good condition as that in cubicula
15 and 16, and
most of the north wall has been lost. However, large parts of the fresco
decoration on the east and west walls have survived, certainly enough
to allow a description of the room as a whole.
The scene on the east wall (pictured above) tells the story of Perseus and Andromeda. According to the story
Andromeda's mother, Cassiope, had boasted of her own beauty. The sea nymphs complained to Poseidon, who flooded her homeland of Ethiopia
and dispatched a sea monster there. Cepheus, Andromeda's father,
consulted the oracle Ammon and learned that the only way to avert the
land's desolation was by chaining his daughter to a rock and exposing her
to the sea monster. In the painting Perseus is shown flying in
from the left hand side to rescue Andromeda from the approaching monster at the painting's lower left. Subsequently, Perseus is shown at the top right of the painting
being received and thanked by Cassiope and Cepheus.
The woman pictured at the lower right of the panel may be a local sea nymph or
perhaps Andromeda's mother.
In the south west corner of the cubiculum a doorway opens onto
a corridor which leads to the rooms ranged round the west side of the
Across the corridor from the 'mythological room' is cubiculum
'white room'. This room was only partially excavated when the excavation
was overrun by lava during the volcanic eruption of April 1906. As a
consequence only two fragmentary panels have survived.
The decoration consisted of white panels with thin columnar
ornamentation with vases and floral elements rising from a deep red
lower frieze which was topped by a dado rail incorporating a black band
decorated with bird life (pictured left and above).