This beautiful room is located in the Palazzo Massimo museum near Termini station. These garden frescoes once adorned an underground dining room in the country villa of Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus. Dining was an important social and political ritual in Ancient Rome, so wealthy Romans like Livia wanted to have aesthetically pleasing dining rooms. This artificial garden creates the illusion of actually being outside, and contains a remarkable variety (and accuracy) of plants and birds. Flowers and fruits of all seasons bloom on these walls, creating the impression of everlasting growth and fertility – the optimism of Augustus’s reign.
This is one of my favourite artworks, and one of the most serene spots I can think of in Rome. It never fails to astonish me just how few people bother to visit Palazzo Massimo – it’s an extraordinary collection of ancient art, including famous works such as the bronze statue “The Boxer at Rest”, not to mention the busts, mosaics and frescoes. Still, their loss is our gain… You might well have Livia’s garden to yourself.