My first visit to Hadrian’s Villa was memorable because it was with a group of scholars from the American Academy in Rome led by the distinguished archaeologist, Frank Brown, who, in 1976, was in his retirement year as the Professor-in-Charge of the Classical School. Several months later I returned to Hadrian’s Villa with a colleague and, being young and intrepid, we ascended the western slopes, climbing over walls and through dense undergrowth, to see the more remote (and still not accessible to the general public) parts of the villa, including the region of the so-called Accademia. Even in Hadrian’s day this “was the more secluded, private and elevated area of the Villa,” (p. 161) with formal gardens and a sacred zone devoted to the cult of Isis and the Seasons, including buildings oriented with respect to the Solstices.
Several years later I found myself pursuing a PhD in Archaeology at Bryn Mawr College where another new student was a young, vivacious, intelligent Italian scholar, Marina De Franceschini. Since then she has devoted her scholarly attention to Hadrian’s Villa, publishing several important works including (with astronomer, Giuseppe Veneziano) Villa Adriana: architettura celeste i segreti e i solstizi. Accademia Villa Adriana, 1 (reviewed in BMCR 2012.08.43), which is related to the present study under review. Indeed, at the time of that publication it was considered the first volume of a continuing study of the Accademia.
Nonetheless, as the title of the present publication implies, it too is the first volume of a larger study of the Accademia, which focuses on ancient sources and antiquarian studies from the 15th through the 17th centuries. And, although this volume may be read and appreciated on its own merits, it is a preliminary to two future volumes—a second one that will continue with the history of scholarship beginning in the 18th century, and a third, and final, volume on the “architecture, building technique, decoration, subterranean corridors, its [the Accademia’s] position with Hadrian’s Villa and relationship with the other buildings and areas, with 3D reconstructions.” (18). Also, regarding the title, the inclusion of Hadrian’s Secret Garden is somewhat misleading because it lends a false expectation that gardens will be discussed. They are not. In fact, the only mention of a “Secret Garden” (or any garden) is on page 186 where it is cited merely as having once existed within a large porticoed courtyard.
A pair of red granite Telamons (now in the Vatican Museum), known at least by 1507 when the artist Antonio da Sangallo the Younger depicted them in the Bishop’s Palace in Tivoli, were in the 18th century declared by Winckelmann to have come from Hadrian’s Villa. De Franceschini uses these Telamons and their supposed find spot in the Villa as a cautionary tale about the necessity of examining carefully and critically the antiquarian sources, which is indeed precisely what she sets out to do in the following chapters.
I am in sympathy with De Franceschini’s efforts to recognize as fully as possible the antiquarian sources and how Hadrian’s Villa was viewed and studied by those who came before. Indeed, I have attempted, when possible, to do the same in my own studies, believing that ancient monuments have gone through not only physical transformations but also abstract and intellectual changes that need to be acknowledged, if we are to understand our own relationship to the ancient past.
The book is organized chronologically and divided into sixteen separate, although interrelated, chapters, some of which are only several pages long. Discussed are those who impacted directly or indirectly Hadrian’s Villa and in particular the Accademia esplanade. This disparate group of scholars, artists, antiquarians, patrons, landowners, and others have contributed to our understanding of the early modern history of the Villa, and it is not surprising that their personal and professional paths intersected at times, making it challenging for the author to create a coherent narrative. Yet, a persistent and diligent reader is rewarded at the end with a comprehensive understanding of the pertinent documents, drawings, plans, and personalities during these formative forays into the Villa. Also, the large format, numerous images and generous use of color, the thick paper stock, and the four large, separately packaged plans make this an impressive, and weighty, book. It needs, however, a large workspace, if one is to be able to refer comfortably to the fold-out plans while consulting the text.
Short biographies—sometimes as independent chapters—lend a human-interest storyline to the narrative (although they may, for example in the case of Chapter 8 on Ippolito D’Este, have little to do directly with expanding our knowledge of Hadrian’s Villa), and cross-referencing helps to interconnect the chapters. Furthermore, the literary testimonia, when they occur in the text, are all translated into English, and the original texts are included as appendices at the end of the chapters—a handy source of information for all future scholars.
Well known individuals are encountered such as Biondo Flavio, Fra’ Giocondo and Francesco di Giorgio Martini in the 15th century; Andrea Palladio and Pirro Ligorio in the 16th century; Francesco Contini (creator of the first complete plan and description of the Villa), Cassiano dal Pozzo and Athanasius Kircher in the 17th century, as well as numerous others who happened to own property within the confines of the Villa (excavating and finding antiquities, particularly sculptures), who made historical studies, or who instigated research and excavation. Pirro Ligorio is one of the defining figures for Hadrian’s Villa because it is he who identified and named buildings according to those mentioned in the Historia Augusta, and offered a topographical itinerary that begins with the Poecile, where most modern visitors to the site first encounter the villa. It is all the more lamentable that so few of his drawings of the Villa survive and De Franceschini’s account of what may have happened to them reads like a mystery novel (p. 84).
Architectural drawings play a major role in the story and as such are analyzed independently and collectively. In particular, these old plans can now be compared to new ones created for this publication. Of course, inaccuracies and fantasies—the result of the inaccessibility of the ruins on the one hand and, on the other, the different motivations of the artists—are to be expected; however, what is surprising is how closely the old plans correspond broadly and sometimes in details to what is still visible and recordable today (see for example Fig. 42, p. 199).
Apart from architecture, sculptures are also discussed in various chapters according to when they reportedly were discovered. Not surprisingly, Pirro Ligorio again plays a large role here, although his typically cryptic remarks are not always useful in identifying these sculptures unless he indicates who owned them in his day or else offers at least some enticing details such as “two seated figures with a dog under their chair” (p. 44). Others also reported sculptural finds and when pertinent to this study these are briefly discussed. However, the most detailed account of any of the sculptures mentioned by De Franceschini is that of the so-called Barberini Candelabra, found in the 17th century on the Bugarini property. She not only presents the controversy over their find spot and their desirability of ownership by Thomas Jenkins, but also a detailed analysis of their physical condition and restorations as well as their possible meaning and use. This is certainly a valuable contribution to the study of these important works of art and it will stand as a preliminary to any further study about them.
The determination of De Franceschini to search out all pertinent material and to analyze it in such great detail is impressive. Her vast knowledge of Hadrian’s Villa developed over several decades of direct investigation, diligent and careful archival research, and the publication of the results allows her to take her place among those whom she discusses as being fundamental in our understanding of a remarkable, intriguing, and enigmatic ancient Roman site.