Robert Castell believed that the gardens of Roman villas were usually planned and laid out very regularly. However, it is important to mention that many Romans in antiquity held the opinion that nature, with its irregularities, was particularly beautiful and they tried to imitate it in art. This preference for nature was also expressed in the gardens of the ancient Romans, which, although by and large regular, often contained small circular meadow areas interspersed with small rivers and trees. (Source: article “William Kent’s ‘Notion Of Gardening’: The Context, The Practice And The Posthumous Claims” by David Jacques, Summer 2016.) Specifically, we see this in the floor plan he drew for Pliny’s house in Tuscany, where he included a small meadow in the upper left and an “imitation of the natural face (= look) of a country” in the upper right. Castell must also have known that perfect regularity was not always the goal in garden design and that the ancient Romans, inspired by nature, also appreciated chaotic conditions in their gardens to a certain degree. In his book “Villas of the Ancients illustrated”, between pages 24 and 25, there is a floor plan of the second floor of Pliny’s house Laurentinum, where one can see an almost perfect reflection with a mirror axis in between. The symmetrical, and thus regular, arrangement here refers not to the garden, but to the building itself. What I find exciting is that the symmetry is broken in small areas here as well, as a parallel to the small circular meadows in the gardens. More specifically, in the aforementioned image, halfway up on the left, you can see a subdivision into 3 medium-sized rooms. On the right side, instead of the mirror image, one sees a subdivision into five rather small room units. In Castell’s book, starting on page 40, there are further plans of the Laurentinum from the floors above. Here, too, one finds at first glance a quite exact regular symmetry, but on closer inspection small inconsistencies stand out. I wonder if these exceptions in an otherwise very regular arrangement were necessary for structural or engineering reasons, or if they are just design. In the second case, which I think is more probable, one can assume that inspiration from beautiful and irregular nature (from the random/spontaneous), as with the garden before, crosses the desire for perfect regularity. I would add that regularity does not have to be a mirror symmetry with one axis, there can be multiple mirror axes. For example, in the book, after page 126, there is an illustration in which the garden in the lower right is mirror symmetrical on two axes. Other important forms of regularity are certainly point symmetry and simple regular repetition.
3 key terms: nature as inspiration, ground floor, arrangement