The Landscape Guide
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Alberti, Poems by Colonna and Pontanus, Florentine early-renaissance, Farm gardens, Sculpture and ruinsRoman Renaissance, Gardens in Northern ItalyEarly Baroque, Boboli Garden, Roman Baroque Frascati villas, High Baroque Next

Poems by Colonna and Pontanus

Rucellai's account of an Italian renaissance garden actually in existence gives a solid foundation to two poetical works. One dates from the middle of the fifteenth century, much the same time as the Quaracchi garden. In the Sogno di Polifilo of the monk Colonna he describes in words and by pictures a round island in a garden, surrounded by myrtle hedges as well as by water. The garden itself forms the segments of the circle, the paths are shaded by pergolas, and most of them are overarched with roses and vines. Pavilions are set up where the paths meet. The separate parts of the garden are meadows, containing flower-beds or fruit-trees, the latter often clipped to make rings. The central piece would be a wonderful fountain, a pavilion (Fig. 151), 



The central feature can also be a very artificial shape in box, of the more important specimens of which he gives a set of illustrations (Fig. 152).

Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide  - see


Fantastic as the whole place may appear, especially in its ground-plan, even that (in its main lines) is clearly indicated by the garden paths which the pergolas mark out; and the individual parts are closed in. Even in this remarkable garden the absence of statuary is obvious, and in its place there appears a decided tendency towards the use of clipped trees in every kind of shape. The house is entirely suppressed, and instead there is this rigid formal plan which combines, in one wholes all the separate features of an Italian renaissance garden.

The second poetical work is De Hortis Hesperidum, by Jovianus Pontanus. He presents a garden without reference to a house. He wrote the book in old age, about the year 1500, when he was enduring an unwelcome leisure near the end of his life. Thinking of the days when with his wife he had tended his Neapolitan garden of orange-trees at Vomero, he wrote an imitation of Virgil's Georgics, to advocate the cultivation of this very profitable fruit, which in Northern Italy was not yet known. But even in his first book Jovianus Pontanus deals in elegant hexameters with pleasure-gardens and the opus topiarium.

If you are not very much concerned about the produce of the garden, or the income it brings you, but only care to enjoy the beauty of the grove (nemoris) and a shady spot brightened with lovely things, choose before all some place where there is a spring or a gliding river to which a stream flows down, or where a fountain plays, so that the garden need never fade and wither in the heat, or your care of the fine wood (sllvae) be wasted by the bitter cold. Set walls all round it, against the storms to come, lay stones, dig trenches, arrange the place with care, and put up earthen banks. Plant young shoots, and arrange them in fixed rows (trames), support them with bast, that from the start they know what they have to do, each in its own proper place. When the tree, owing to the gardener's constant care and attention, begins to put out its branches and unfold its leaves, then choose the task for each, and make the formless mass into shapes of beauty. Let one climb to high tower or bulwark, another bend to spear or bow; let one make strong the trenches or the walls; one like a trumpet must wake men to arms and summon hosts to battle; another shall throw stones from slings of brass, storming the camp, sending the foe back to their ruined walls. In those ruins the hosts go forward, and stand at the open gates; the conquering army presses into the town. Thus shall you by skill, time, native strength, and careful nurture, convert the tree into many new forms, even as a thread of wool is woven into divers figures and colours in a carpet.

If one ignores in all this the exaggerations and meanderings of a humanistic style, there is nothing at variance with Rucellai's garden: indeed it is quite likely that the poet had in his mind his garden at the Mergelina.