The garden courtyard was principal piece of planning within the urban life of Ancient Rome, providing an infrastructural and social relief valve for the overburdened density of the imperial city. Centralized in placement, within the plan of the roman Domus, the courtyard was wrapped by the columnated porch of the Peristylium, as a piece of wild and natural ex-urban space within the home. Surrounded by a perimeter column supported portico, this indoor-outdoor hybrid space was richly adorned with elaborate black and white tesserae mosaics and deceiving trompe l’oeil frescoes of rich three-dimensional murals aimed at creating the sense of continuous landscape beyond the walls. Before the development of the Roman aqueduct, these integrated open spaces were also productive landscapes, deploying the agricultural practice of espalier, where filled fruit trees were spread against the courtyard walls allowing the central space of the garden to maintain a recreational capacity. Following the introduction of urban water infrastructure of aqueduct, these garden spaces, during the 1st century of the Common Era, transitioned in nature to pleasure or floral vanity gardens, leaving behind their productive and agricultural capacity.
Espalier is a French word, coming from the Italian meaning “something to rest the shoulder (spalla) against.” Historically it described the physical trellis frame which the plant would grow on, and over time it would be trained through fasteners and twisting around the structure. The frames are typically created from metal, wire or wood to create a series of ornamental shapes. The technique began with the Romans, and it was used to produce fruit in the courtyards of buildings. The flat plane would allow the plantings to not interfere with the program and use of the courtyard and also easily access the produce being grown. They were planted in the centers as well as against walls to decorate them as an art piece would.
Each growing season the plant is pruned back until it reaches the desired growth. New buds are removed to prevent plant growth in specific directions to create a specific pattern. Species typically include fruit trees however, a wide variety of woody plants can be trained to grow on a plane. Faster growing trees are better since more of the plant will develop on a growing season reaching the full form sooner. There are a series of formal patterns and designs which have been developed over hundreds of years. Their shape range from simple geometries to very elaborate articulations. The Palmette Simple, is the most traditional pattern. It is possible for each new year, a new tier of growth is added to plant.
The last century before the common era saw the birth of several representational techniques by the Romans towards the distortion of space, particularly as employed in the courtyards of roman houses which have been found preserved in Pompei and Herculaneum. While previous styles, embraced the flatness of the wall, the Second Style attempted to trick the viewer into believing that one was looking through a window by painting illusionistic images, most frequently showing images of landscape material as if the room extends into garden’s beyond. Tools of the perspective, such as foreshortening and further distortion of the image created a three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional plane.
These tricks would be re-deployed and further examine over a millenia later by monks of Rome such as Emmanuel Maignan and of course Andrea Pozzo during the Baroque The subject matter of these rooms was often laden with still-life representations of fruit, vegetables and other animals painted in a way that accurately depicted how light would cast shadows over these objects as if they were alive in the room.
The Roman mosaics were a common element of private homes and public gathering areas embedded into different areas like walls and floors. Their representation spread a range of images, from food and clothes, to flora and fauna, and larger scenes depicting events and people. The individual tiles, referred to as opus tesellatum, were small black and white tiled squares made out of tile, marble, glass,and pottery. Geometric patterns were often used on the floors of the homes because of their heavy use. These graphic illusions often made the rooms look larger.
The espalier panels were constructed with HDPE cut on a vinyl cutter and fastened together using 38,000 adhesive dots. The panels were held from the columns using Italian Agricultural garden mesh for the purposes of growing plant-life up vertical surfaces.