Palatium: House of Livia

The House of Livia (domus Liviae) is a building complex on the Palatine Hill, ancient Rome’s most desirable location. It was built in the first half of the first century BC and belonged to the empress Livia, the third wife of Emperor Augustus. It stood next to the House of Augustus (domus Octaviani) alongside a complex of buildings conceived for the ideological propaganda of the emperor’s power and image. The house marks the transition between the 2nd and the 3rd architectural style of the Pompeian wall painting.

First excavated in 1839, the house has been attributed to Livia on the basis of the name IVLIA AVG[VSTA] stamped on a lead pipe on display on the left-hand wall of the tablinum. The two-storey house, built around a central atrium, was decorated with advanced “Second Pompeian Style” wall paintings, reflecting the sophisticated taste of wealthy Romans.

Plan of the House of Livia.
Plan of the House of Livia.

The remains of the house are reached by a sloping hallway whose floor is covered with a black and white geometric mosaic leading into a rectangular atrium. The best preserved section of Livia’s House consists of a rectangular atrium and three relatively large adjoining rooms (a tablinum and two side rooms). Each room was painted with a mythological subject and its floor decorated in black and white geometric mosaic.

The central room (the tablinum), also known as the “Room of Polyphemus”, was the most richly decorated. Each of its walls had a large mythological picture in the middle, set in a large columnar frame. The mythological picture on the back wall, now totally illegible, showed one of the earliest representation of the story of the monster Polyphemus and the sea nymph Galatea. It depicted Polyphemus immersed in the water with a young Cupid riding on its shoulders pursuing the nymph Galatea as she rides a sea-horse (hippocampus). Still visible however is the mythological scene on the right-hand wall of the tablinum depicting Mercury rescuing the mortal woman Io, who had been changed into a white heifer by Zeus in order to disguise his affair with her.

The decoration on the right-hand room is characterized by luxuriant festoons and garlands of fruits, flowers, branches and leaves. A yellow frieze running along the top the frescoes was filled with scenes of everyday life in Egypt (camels, sphinxes and a statue of Isis can be seen). The triclinium (dining room) is remarkable for its delicate decoration. Each wall was given an elaborate design of illusionistic architecture featuring a large picture of a sacral-idyllic landscape in the centre.

Following recent conservation work, a visit to the House of Livia and Augustus can now be booked with Coopculture.it. Tighter restrictions on the number of visitors who can access the site at any one time have been put in place and you will need to book to join the 2pm English tour which runs on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays. The guided tour lasts 75 minutes and accommodates a maximum of 20 people. Combined ticket for the Palatine-Roman Forum / Colosseum (valid for one entrance in the two sites for 2 consecutive days) or the Archaeologia Card (valid 7 days) have to be bought to get access to both Imperial houses.

PORTFOLIO

The tablinum of the House of Livia, also known as the “Room of Polyphemus”. The tablinum of the House of Livia, also known as the “Room of Polyphemus”.
The tablinum of the House of Livia, also known as the “Room of Polyphemus”.
Detail of wall painting on the back wall of the tablinum. Around the central panel (now totally illegible) are backdrops of illusionistic architecture and small panels with ritual scenes.
Detail of wall painting on the back wall of the tablinum. Around the central panel (now totally illegible) are backdrops of illusionistic architecture and small panels with ritual scenes.
Detail of fresco on the back wall of the tablinum.
Detail of fresco on the back wall of the tablinum.
Detail of fresco on the back wall of the tablinum.
Detail of fresco on the back wall of the tablinum.
The tablinum with the mythological scenes in the center of both walls. The mythological scene on the right-hand wall of the tablinum is still partly visible.
The tablinum with the mythological scenes in the center of both walls. The mythological scene on the right-hand wall of the tablinum is still partly visible.
Mythological scene depicting Mercury rescuing the mortal woman Io, who had been changed into a white heifer by Zeus in order to disguise his affair with her. Io is facing her guardian Argus while Mercury, arriving from the left, is about to free her.
Mythological scene depicting Mercury rescuing the mortal woman Io, who had been changed into a white heifer by Zeus in order to disguise his affair with her. Io is facing her guardian Argus while Mercury, arriving from the left, is about to free her.
Detail of fresco on the right-hand wall of the tablinum.
Detail of fresco on the right-hand wall of the tablinum.
The right-hand room of the House of Livia, characterized by luxuriant festoons of fruit and flowers.
The right-hand room of the House of Livia, characterized by luxuriant festoons of fruit and flowers.
The decorations on the left-hand room show winged fantasy figures, human and animal, ending in elegant plant tendrils.
The right-hand room of the House of Livia, characterized by luxuriant festoons of fruit and flowers.
Fresco detail with luxuriant festoons in right-hand room.
Fresco detail with luxuriant festoons in right-hand room.
The left-hand room of the House of Livia.
The left-hand room of the House of Livia.
Fresco detail in the upper zone of the left-hand room with winged females figures, perhaps Victories.
Fresco detail in the upper zone of the left-hand room with winged females figures, perhaps Victories.
The triclinium (dining room) is remarkable for its delicate decoration. Each wall was given an elaborate design of illusionistic architecture featuring a large picture of a sacred and rural landscape in the centre.
The triclinium (dining room) decorated with an elaborate design of illusionistic architecture featuring a large picture of a sacral-idyllic landscape in the centre.
Fresco detail in the right wall of the triclinum depicting a sacred and rural landscape.
Fresco detail in the right wall of the triclinum depicting a sacral-idyllic landscape.
Wall painting fragment alternating wide black and narrow green panels framed in red and bordered above and below in yellow bands.
Wall painting fragment alternating wide black and narrow green panels framed in red and bordered above and below in yellow bands.

The vestibulum with imitation veneer adorning the walls.
The vestibulum with imitation veneer adorning the walls.

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10 thoughts on “Palatium: House of Livia

  1. Reblogged this on Larry Muffin At Home and commented:
    When I lived in Rome the house of Livia was not open to the public and was still under archeological study. I was able to see the house of Augustus next door and that was very impressive. This is certainly a highlight of any visit to Rome. More details of her house in Capena such as the dining room can be seen at the Massimo Museum by the Termini train station in Rome. All very well preserved.

    Liked by 1 person

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