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The lost dimension: pruned plants in Roman gardens

  • Kathryn L. GleasonEmail author
Original Article

Abstract

This paper focuses on evidence for the pruning and dwarfing of plants represented in Roman garden paintings. In two particularly fine examples of this type, from the Villa of Livia at Prima Porta near Rome, and the House of the Golden Bracelet at Pompeii, the artists have carefully portrayed pruning marks and other horticultural practices that alter the size and natural habit of plants. This evidence complements archaeobotanical findings by showing the above-ground appearance of garden plants attested in the archaeological record. The remains of a garden that may be linked to garden paintings were found in 2007 in the Great Peristyle at the Villa Arianna at Stabiae, near Pompeii. Seeking evidence for the interpretation of this garden, paintings and texts have been critically examined. The results reveal a wealth of evidence for plant pruning management in the paintings linked to nemora tonsilia or silva tonsilia—the art of pruning groups of trees and shrubs for ornamental presentation, initiated by C. Matius during the reign of Augustus in the 1st century bc. This art of pruning woody plants may be a virtuoso display of the horticultural skills involved in the management of the broader cultivated landscape of Rome and Pompeii.

Keywords

Roman gardens Pruning Ars topiaria Nemora tonsilia Horticulture Arboriculture Villa Arianna Stabiae 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Gardens have featured among the environments Naomi Miller has studied, notably her 1989 SAA Panel with the author, “The Archaeology of Garden and Field,” which became a special issue of Expedition Magazine (Miller and Gleason 1990) then an edited book, The Archaeology of Garden and Field (Miller and Gleason 1994). It is an honour to contribute to this publication in recognition of her 2017 Fryxell Award for lifetime contributions to palaeoethnobotany and landscape archaeology. The studies at the Villa Arianna took place with the kind permission of Massimo Osanna of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei (now the Parco Archeologico di Pompei) and Thomas Noble Howe of the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation (RAS). The garden archaeology team from the Cornell Institute for Archaeology & Material Studies (CIAMS) worked under the aegis of the RAS. Support for the project was provided by the Hirsch Fund for Archaeology and the Department of Landscape Architecture at Cornell University. The project is part of the Horti Stabiani Database Project to record the known gardens at Stabiae, and the “Le jardin e son archeologie” project with Amina-Aïcha Malek (CNRS/Paris) through a PICS grant for international collaboration. Parks and Imperial Fora of Ancient Rome seminar at Cornell contributed significantly to interpretation: notably, Elizabeth Knox and David Ffrench on pruning techniques and terminology, and Kaja Tally-Schumacher and Nils Niemeier on interpretation of garden paintings (Tally-Schumacher & Niemeier 2016; Niemeier and Tally-Schumacher 2017). This paper has benefited from fruitful discussions with Amina-Aïcha Malek, Michele Palmer, Nicholas Purcell, Bettina Bergman, Lena Langren, and Dafna Langgut, as well as feedback from the anonymous reviewers. The drawings have been prepared by the author unless otherwise noted.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Landscape ArchitectureCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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