Domus Aurea and the Innovations in the Roman Art Essay
Domus Aurea and the Innovations in the Roman Art
It seems reasonable then to assume that where researchers find evidence of striking artistic innovation in the city of architecture, Nero is to some extent responsible, for the radical improvement of aesthetic quality is considerable. Art historians are agreed that the only major innovation found in the Domus Aurea, is the use of vault mosaics. In AD 64 a devastating fire swept through the capital of the Roman Empire, leaving swaths of the city center smoldering and uninhabitable (Gates 362). Emperor Nero took this opportunity to build a vast, luxurious residence and landscaped parkland called the Domus Aurea, or Golden House.
Later, Nero’s critics found several features of the place symbolic of his megalomaniacal self-indulgence, including its artificial lake, the 100-foot-tall statue of the emperor, and rooms with revolving mechanisms. As part of his general reconstruction of Rome Nero could have had the idea of embellishing the central area with parks, groves and fountains. Here in his complex of imperial buildings he could hear audiences and do business, while his people would have access to him and to some of the buildings and grounds.
Nero’s comitas and popularitas must be remembered: he was not a man to deprive his public. Shortly before the Fire he held a public banquet in which he extended to the people pleasures normally confined to the few. Tacitus sneer on this occasion, He “used the whole city as his house” (Tacitus 417), reminds one of the squib Rome will become a house. Nero may have felt he was opening his house to the citizens, while his critics felt that he was excluding the citizens from their city.
After the Fire researchers find him offering public entertainment in his Vatican circus and adjacent gardens, dressed as a charioteer and mixing with the plebs (Champlin 74). In any case, nothing suggests that Nero meant to shut himself up in the Domus Aurea. One of the problems for the Pisonian conspirators may have been that after the Fire, with his palace damaged and under reconstruction, Nero was spending his time in imperial properties that were more private, such as the Servilian Gardens. Thus the Domus Aurea Park need not have prevented movement through the centre of the city, though doubtless the routes were changed.
Even on the Palatine only a cryptoporticus connected the various imperial buildings: there was no need to weld them all into one enclosed complex, and they may have been intended to remain separate. The Golden House was, nonetheless, probably an overambitious project. Observers would have gained the impression that a vast complex was in hand, because the work did not proceed area by area. Though never finished, a vast number of buildings were started all around the central lake. Nero no doubt spoke with enthusiasm of the technical marvels that were in hand.
The unsympathetic may well have reacted as one scholar who wrote, ‘The Fire gave a mortally egocentric autocrat the chance to demand a unique monumental expression of what he considered his worth and position to be”( MacDonald 31). The large remains on the Oppian Hill have by now lost most of their decoration. The grand apartments have been plunged in darkness since the foundations were laid for Trajan’s Baths. Even before that, Vitellius and his wife were disappointed by the lack of decoration and the mean equipment of the palace.
The Domus Aurea was left unfinished when Nero died, and the alterations made by Otho interfered with the grand architectural conception of its creator (Colin & Shotter 55). Even so, the construction and design still excite the admiration of architects and engineers by reason of the new exploitation of space and the creation of internal vistas. Two features, in particular, impress by their artistic and architectural originality: the five-sided trapezoidal court in the west wing, which was once matched by a similar one in the east wing, and the domed octagonal room in the centre with its five rooms radiating from it symmetrically.
As the new excavations show, the palace originally had two floors, each of which displayed east-west symmetry and was interrupted by the two open trapezoidal courts. The two courts framed the central complex of rooms around the octagon which extended through the upper storey and could probably be viewed from the adjacent upper rooms as well as the lower ones. The octagon room thus formed the focus of the whole building. It is usually identified with the main circular dining room described by historian Suetonius (Garwood 81), though there is no agreement on what elements rotated.
It is notable, however, that the inside of the dome shows no traces of decoration, and that the water that rain into the room to the north came in at a steeper gradient than would be necessary for a nymphaeum. Hence the suggestion that some of the water turned a device suspended through the opening in the dome, representing the changes of seasons on the vault. The two grooves on the outer surface of the dome will have served as tracks for the suspended through the opening in the dome, representing the changes of seasons on the vault.
The two grooves on the outer surface of the dome will have served as tracks for the suspended device. Whatever the explanation, the study of the Domus Transitoria and the Domus Aurea shows, to an even greater degree than our examination of the coinage, that Nero was an enthusiast who threw himself into grand projects and put at their service the latest Roman technology and the most advanced artistic ideas. Nero’s zeal for the arts, however, did not stop at patronage and planning.
If his aim of professional performance was more acceptable to the Greek way of thinking, his desire to achieve that standard in all the arts at once would strike even a Greek as absurd. Finally, the Domus Aurea presents a wealth of architectural innovation including an exploitation of the dome to crate a new conception of internal space. Another dome that employed a similar type of buttressing wall but in a more systematic manner occurs in the octagonal room of the Domus Aurea (Turner 89).
The vaults around the octagonal room were combined in a way to create a very clever series of well lit rooms. It was one of the most inventive uses of vaulting yet created by the Romans and one that ushered in a new way of thinking about light and space. It also created new structural issues to be resolved. Like the Mercury dome, the octagonal dome at the Domus Aurea was built within other vaulted structures, the walls of which provided buttressing for the support structure.
The most innovative aspect of the design was the way that light was brought in above the haunches of the octagonal vault by means of clerestory windows. As result of the configuration, the dome had to be quite thin if there was to be enough space at its haunches for the clerestory lighting into the adjacent rooms. The structural resolution was a more elegant form of the one employed at Baiae. The octagonal dome was buttressed with a series of eight triangular piers, each constructed above one corner of the vault so that the clerestory windows could fit between them.
At the Domus Aurea octagon, the buttressing walls on the extrados of the dome were used to accommodate windows in the haunches, which was possible because of the support from the surrounding structures but also which precluded the use of continuous step-rings. On the other hand, in the Fourth Style or intricate style, a taste for illusionism returned once again. This style became popular around the time of the Pompeian earthquake of 62 CE (Stewart 81), and it was preferred manner of mural decoration when the town was buried in volcanic ash in 79.
The earliest examples, such as Room 78 in the emperor Nero’s fabulous Domus Aurea, of Golden House, in Rome. Although the Fourth Style architectural vistas are irrational fantasies. The viewer looks out not on cityscapes or round temples set in peri-styles but at fragments of buildings – columns supporting half-pediments, double stories of columns supporting nothing at all – painted on the same white ground as the rest of the wall. In the Fourth Style, architecture became just another motif in the painter’s ornamental repertoire (Strong, et al. 104).
In the latest Fourth Style designs, Pompeian painters rejected the quiet elegance of the Third Style and early Fourth Style in favor of crowded and confused compositions and sometimes garish color combinations. The Ixion Room of the House of the Vettii at Pompeii was decorated in this manner just before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The room served as a triclinium in the house the Vettius brother remodeled after the earthquake. It opened onto the peristyle. The decor of the dining room is a kind of resume of all the previous styles, another instance of the eclecticism noted earlier as characteristic of Roman art in general.
The lowest zone, for example, is one of the most successful imitations anywhere of costly multicolored imported marbles, despite the fact that the illusion is created without recourse to relief, as in the First Style. The large white panels in the corners of the room, with their delicate floral frames and floating central motifs, would fit naturally into the most elegant Third Style design. Unmistakably Fourth Style, however, are the fragmentary architectural vistas of the central and upper zones of the Ixion Room walls.
They are unrelated to one another, do not constitute a unified cityscape beyond the wall, and are peopled with figures that would tumble into the room if they took a single step forward. Among the varieties of pavement-decoration with which Fourth Style paintings were combined, the commonest remained black and white mosaics or mortar decorated with insect tesserae – simple types suitable to offset the polychromy of walls and ceilings. But this period also sees more examples of opus sectile in coloured marbles, used both for emblemata and in grander houses for whole floors.
Such pavements accorded with the more showy side of Fourth Style taste and were clearly prized as status symbols. As in previous periods, so in the Fourth Style decorative ensembles usually show attempts to harmonize the treatment different surfaces within a room (Clarke 166). The most striking gestures in this direction were the increased use of single-color schemes. Already foreshadowed in the late Third Style, these were much favoured in the Fourth Style for the finer rooms of the house, notably dining and reception rooms. The Fourth Style period is especially fruitful for the study of the interaction of the different media.
Researchers find painting working in close relationship with both mosaic and stucco-work in order to produce the ornate effects which were currently in favour, and not surprisingly the close relationship resulted in a good deal of murual influence. Perhaps also emanating from the Neronian court (the first datable instance is to be found in the earlier of the two palaces) is what became known as fourth-style Romano-Campanian wall-painting, which combines the architectural illusionism and colour experimentation of earlier styles into a theatrical, even surrealistic design.
The fourth Style apparently died of exhaustion about the end of the century. With it the great age of Roman wall-painting came to an end. The future was to produce some interesting and not unattractive work, but the creative thrust of the late Republic and early Empire was dissipated in a series of revivals and counter-revivals which never fully recaptured the enthusiasm of the initial period.
Each of the four Pompeian Style had offered something new and stimulating; the First had taken the Hellenistic Masonry Style of interior decoration and turned it into bright patterns of abstract block work; the Second had opened up the wall with grand illusions of painted architecture; the Third had closed the wall once more and put emphasis on a framed picture-panel, complemented by fine, coloristic surface-ornament; and the Fourth had reintroduced architectural illusionism but substituted lightness and fantasy for the solidity and logic of the Second Style.
These development had been spearheaded by painters working in Roman Italy, and they had turned wall-painting from the poor relation of panel-painting into the most vigorous and important branch of the pictorial arts. By the second century A. D. , however, the inventiveness of Roman-Italian wall-painting was declining, and the focus of interest switches to other regions and to other media. Roman builders not only developed the arch, vault, and dome but pioneered the creative use of concrete. These innovations proved revolutionary, allowing Romans for the first time to cover immense interior spaces without inner supports.
Recent scholarship on the Domus Aurea complex has suggested that the true novelty of this complex was neither in the technical innovations lauded by some architectural historians nor in its luxurious decorations but rather its scale and location. Works Cited Champlin, Edward. “Nero. ” Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Belknap, 2003. Clarke, John. “The Houses of Roman Italy, 100 B. C. A. D. 250: Ritual, Space, And Decoration. ” University of California Press, 1993. Colin, David and Shotter, Arthur. “Nero. ” Routledge, 1997. Donald, Strong, Toynbee, Jocelyn, and Roger Ling.
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