The Landscape Guide

The Baroque in Italy

Under the rule of Pope Paul V. Rome had really taken on that appearance which was maintained till 1870. It was by Paul V. that the last and greatest of the conduits was brought to Rome, and the Acqua Paola really is what it is called by a contemporary historian of the Pope, " no longer the play of pipes, for it breaks out in a stream.” On the height of the Janiculum the four arms of water rise from the ground, five times as strong as Acqua Felice, Rome was henceforth the richest capital in the world in water. It was quite clear that the villa built by Paul V.’s nephew had to be the grandest of all. On the north Scipio bought what was for those days a very large estate, with a circumference of three miles (Fig. 258). 

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Once again the family of Altemps were his predecessors in possessing the greater part of this villa, but of the first layout there are only a few entrance-doors to be seen, which are attributed to Martino Lungo. The casino at any rate, and with it the garden, was certainly made by Scipio. The villa remained till a short time ago in the possession of the family, for the Borghesi were among the very few in Rome who kept their property for centuries, and from time to time restored it. Naturally this was a good thing for the villas, and in the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, when most of the others were in a very sad state of neglect and decay, the villas of the Borghesi, especially this Pincian villa, roused the greatest enthusiasm among travellers. But this undeniable advantage meant the almost complete ruin of the original gardens of the beginning of the seventeenth century.

It is only by the help of old drawings and certain descriptions by travellers in the seventeenth century that we can recover anything of the past scene at the Villa Borghese. The territory that Scipio acquired embraced only about three-fifths of the present circumference. The great drop to the south of the so-called giardino del lago towards the town wall was at that time only occupied by small houses and villas, and the part between the old gate and the so-called muro torto (22), as far as the present entrance at Porta del Popolo, was the garden of Villa Giustiniana, at that time much praised for its beauty. To-day we need only say of it that a colossal bust of the Emperor Justinian stood there, since the family liked to remember he was their ancestor. These new parts were first acquired by Camillo Borghese at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Things went worse in the eighteenth century,. when the old park of Marco Antonio Borghese became an English park with a pronounced classical tendency. At that time were made the lake garden, the hippodrome, and the temple; the smaller building was converted into a mediaeval castle, and the casino rebuilt. Only the two gardens before and behind the casino remained as they were, so far as ground-plan went. But neglect has more to answer for in this state of growing decay than have any deliberate changes.

The old garden as laid out by the cardinal was surrounded by two walls, so adorned with small houses, pyramids and turrets that they looked to people coming from a distance "like a little town complete in itself.” The garden was in three separate parts, with walls round each and wrought-iron gates. The main entrance (i), “a rifle-shot from Porta Pinciana,” led into the first garden in front of the casino (Fig. 259), but not right up to it, only to a cross-path that ended in a grotto in the rock with a fountain.

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 It was only later that the beautiful river-horse fountain was put here (Fig. 260). 

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The chief avenue leading to the casino crosses this entrance walk in the middle. We can see in this garden how the effect of a complete architectural whole has quite disappeared, and the casino is placed where it is in order that it shall not be seen till we reach the garden. This is quite level in front and divided into formal squares of plantation, which at an early date were certainly full of different kinds of trees. Also firs, cypresses, myrtles and laurels have been noticed with approval, making up the different bordered squares. On both sides of the main walk there were round places with simple but pretty fountains, each place hedged in and ornamented with statues. At the side there is a little circular temple above an artificial ice grotto, that serves as a wine cooler. This grotto still exists, but at that time it was a kind of dining-room in the open air, and it kept cool in the hottest summer weather. The casino was built by a Flemish architect, Vasancio, in a style that shows a marked likeness to the garden façade of Villa Medici. Probably this casino was not a dwelling-house at the beginning, but only meant for the reception of large parties.

The great square in front also corresponds with what we have at Villa Medici, designed as a fine ascent and surrounded by vases and statues. The façade with turrets (Fig. 261) has here also antique relief work and busts instead of any architectural decoration.

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On both sides of the building there are giardini secreti for oranges, rare flowers, vegetables and fruits. In the middle of the more northerly of these gardens there is a bird-house in two sections (9 in Fig. 258), like the one in the Farnese Gardens. Behind the casino is the second flower-garden, and there is a place corresponding to the one in front of the house, with a fountain in the middle (i i in Fig. 258) topped by a bronze figure of Narcissus (Fig. 262). 

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Round this are sarcophagi, statues, and sphinxes. In front of the exits of the paths, which run through the square thickets into which the whole space is divided up, stand Hermes statues of colossal size carrying fruit. The northern wall shows the theatre decoration, with more antique inscriptions and statues in niches (12 in Fig. 258). From two windows there is a view over the open hunting-fields adjoining. This is wonderfully effective as a contrast to the highly decorated part, for even the semi- circular plãce is not without seats all round, and carvings. An obelisk stood in the middle with an eagle on the top. The east wall was covered in the same manner.

All the rest of the estate was a great park with many cages for wild beasts—unusual foreign creatures—birds, fish in a large pond, bird-houses and hunting-grounds for rabbits, hares and deer. But everything, with the one exception of the hunting-park, which was altogether uncultivated, was planted in an entirely formal way, and traversed by wide straight avenues, The aviaries also (23 in Fig. 258) are formal covered walks with wooden stakes and nets thrown over. Each home appointed for a pair of animals has a special surround with its own entrance gates. At the muro torto on the site where the giardino del lago now is, there was another part planted with formal thickets of oak, by the side of which was a small casino, adapted to various ends, a garden-house or at times a little dwelling-house for the family (20 in Fig. 258). Here also was fine ornamental sculpture, and as there was a second entrance to the villa, no doubt entertainments were provided for visitors.

One entire novelty fitting well with his feudal instincts was created by the cardinal: precisely in front of the town gates he laid out a great park that was exclusively devoted to the nobler forms of sport. This was a harking back to mediaeval times when princes were wont to make huge deer-parks just outside the gates; in the sixteenth century the custom had died out. But Scipio was clever enough to unite these feudal precincts with casino and flower-garden, set out with every refinement of luxury and the choicest works of art. The gardens had to accommodate themselves to the very severe character of the park. There was no more to be seen of the gaiety of a Renaissance garden; here were the massive effects of oak, laurel and cypress, densely set about the casino; for these were the suitable background, in their solemn colouring and ceremonious form, for the great festivals of that period. Even though the outlining of separate bits of the park had a practical intention, it must have had an archaic effect: the monumental entrance doors gave to the whole a fine architectural sense of structure. Mediaeval, too, must have been the aspect of the heavy double walls equipped with turrets and pavilions, which surrounded the whole of the precincts and gave them grandeur.

When the work was done, the cardinal opened the place freely to the Romans, setting up an inscription:

Whoever thou art, now be a free man, and fear not the fetters of the law. Go where thou wilt, pluck what thou wilt, depart when thou wilt. Here all is for the stranger more than for the one who owns. In this goiueri age mat promises securuy to au men, tne master oi tne nouse will nave no iron iaws. Then let him who evilly and of set purpose shall betray the golden rule of hospitality beware, lest the angry steward burn the tokens of his friendship

This inscription is the conscious exhibition of a sentiment beloved by Scipio, noblesse oblige. It is not that the cardinal was doing anything wonderful in throwing open his garden—the inscription made by Brenzoni for the villa at San Vigilio shows the same spirit—but Scipio did this, like everything else, in the grand style. From the earliest days of the Renaissance it was customary in Italy for people who owned works of art and gardens to give the public free access to them. Montaigne, after enumerating the best gardens in Rome, breaks out into an exclamation of wonder: “ And these are beauties that are open to anyone who likes to have them, who may sleep in them and even take his friends, if the masters are not actually there.” Moreover, meetings of all sorts were held, and in clerical circles people combined pleasure with edification, and these gardens became a favourite theatre for sermons and theological disputations. But apparently learned doctors were not so liberally disposed as other noble owners, for Montaigne complains that famous men made people pay highly for admission to their debates. His description, an extract from Roman history long since past, ends with the words, “ I have no use here for grief or melancholy.” These words awake an echo in the hearts of those who fare to Rome in any age. Winckelmann expresses the same thought in words as happy: “ I feel freer than I have ever been in my life, I am in a measure lord of my lord and his castles of delight, I take my way whither and to whom I will. In this place people understand better than we do the value of life and its secret: they love to enjoy and let others enjoy.”

Villa Ludovisi, Rome

The seventeenth century shows no loss of creative power in this gardening art, but with time there is some dearth of new ideas; on the other hand there are traces, although very faint ones, of a foreign influence, which comes from France. 
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The villa (Fig. 263) built by the Ludovisi, that nephew-family which turned the Borghesi out of the Papal chair, has certainly not vanished from the memory of the living representatives of that race—indeed, many of them live under its shadow—but the place itself has completely disappeared under the sea of elegant houses of the modern capital. Except for small traces in the old garden (Fig. 264) all that remains is one casino, a little central building which, set on the highest point, was once surrounded by park-like ground belonging to the villa.

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It was in the middle of a piece with statues, to which broad paths led, making the shape of a star. At the points of this star there were particularly fine specimens of sculpture, an ancient tomb, a colossal statue of Alexander Severus, and others: the arrangement of these gives the desired limitation to the view of the beholder who is looking down from above.

The woodland (selvaggio) dominated by the little rotunda made one side of the villa, and the rest of it was round the rather small dwelling-house, which was to the south near the entrance at Porta Salaria. The garden front (Fig. 265) cuts through a sunk court with two fountains for ornament, by a terrace on the height of the first story. 

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Below the terrace there were grottoes. Above these one arrived at the great open-air parade, demanded by Roman ceremonial at that date, and in the centre stood a round fountain of the Triton, At the side, but unattached to the house, was a giardino secreto divided as in Villa Borghese by a house for birds and dominated by it: the house looks at the back upon a wonderful parterre of flowers. On the other side of the parade is a laberinto in forma di bosco ornato di statue, which really means that spaces and paths have been cut in the thick of the greenery. The rest of the garden is laid out in dense clumps as at Villa Borghese. The main entrance, at the side of which stood a casino containing a picture-gallery, opened on a grand avenue with a statue at the end. The villa was cut off on the north by the picturesque town wall. All these familiar traits are handled with much skill in detail, but the picture as a whole needs the creative touch, which we could always find before: the parts here are put beside one another, but do not spring from one common centre.

Villa Pamfili

Not much later than the Villa Ludovisi, before the middle of the eighteenth century, the Villa Doria Pamfili, nephews of Innocent X., built, in obvious rivalry with the Villa Borghese, the second large Roman villa in front of the town (Fig. 266). 

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It lies on the Janiculum, in front of the Porta Pancrazio, and surpasses the Villa Borghese not only in circumference but also in the wealth of special sites, Unfortunately it met the fate of its predecessor, for by reason of the greater extent of its parks it suffered a fundamental change to a style that was not really natural to it, and so it came about that only a very few of its fountains and water arrangements reveal the features of the old design. For a Roman villa of that period it is unusually good in the treatment of the purely ornamental garden, which though altered in detail has kept in great measure the same form as of old. The casino and its own garden were at the north-east corner of the old villa, and everything on the east of it is territory that has been annexed later. The chief entrance gate leads to a long avenue, whence one gets a lovely view of the dome of St. Peter’s and the casino garden farther to the north. On the south the garden façade of the house—at first covered with antique reliefs—opens on a parterre, which serves as a giardino secreto, being on two of its sides cut out of the hill (Fig. 267). In the dividing wall there are niches and statues and also espalier fruit-trees.

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The whole picture is made fine and festive with fountains, flower-beds, and pots standing on the balustrades, The beds have no doubt changed very much since they were first planted, but they must have been the sort that showed arabesque patterns in box, filled in with flowers. (It will be shown later that this plan was an Italian invention, which at this period found its way into France.) From here one passes by steps to a flower-garden which is one terrace below, laid out with beds and tree clumps, with hedges round.
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 In the crossways axis by the side of the park there is a very good and pretty theatre place (Fig. 268). The fountain belonging to this site is on the park terrace, and makes a good connecting-link with the various parts behind. The park was originally laid out in two sections divided by a railing with doors in it.

The northern section, nearest to the real flower-garden, has much of the character of a pleasure-ground. It is an immense open place by the side of the casino, and was probably used for games; at the back of it there are shrubs and an orangery, with central fountain and statues. In this part there was also a special little casino della famiglia, as there was at the Villa Borghese, close to the wall of the terrace that has the fine view, and having a giardino secreto of its own and a small theatre. Of the very attractive gate-casino, or lodge, only part has been preserved: it lies entirely in the angle of this terrace, and shows some remains of statues and fountains. Stretching across the whole width of the park in front on the south was the much-admired pinetum, which must have created the impression of an enormous pillared hall with a green roof, so regularly were the trees planted. The second part (separated from this) was intended for a large animal-park with many ;kinds of enclosures and cages to serve as domestic quarters for the different beasts. But this hunting-ground also shows that it was intended to have a connection with the other part of the park just described: there is a large lake, oval in shape, with an island in the middle of it, surrounded by several rings of trees planted at regular intervals. From this pond a canal makes its way straight as a die through the pinetum in a dip of the valley; it has several bridges over it, and ends in a water theatre, the terrace above being topped by the fountain of lilies, which remains a beautiful thing to this day.

The place is unique, certainly for an Italian garden, and so one may perhaps suspect French influence here. We shall see later how the canal idea developed in the French garden, though with very different results, and it is not impossible that the French notion has slipped in without any deliberate planning. There is no doubt that certain charac teristics, such as the star shape of the park at the Villa Ludovisi, gave occasion for the fanciful theory that the great French garden artist, Le Nôtre, himself designed both these gardens; but Le Nôtre did not come to Italy with a made reputation till 1678. He first stayed there some time in the forties, when he was entirely unknown and had no experience in garden matters, Here the cart has been put before the horse, for Le Nôtre came not as a teacher but as a learner, and in these villas he found the incitement and material that led him to his great activities.

Isola Bella

The creative Italian spirit is powerful enough to master new tasks with its traditional skill, though a light-hearted way of ignoring difficulties added to the danger that stood in the way of all art everywhere. There was in some quarters an exaggeration of bad taste which even penetrated into Italy in the late seventeenth century. The Counts Borromeo possessed a summer villa on the Isola Madre in Lago Maggiore, and a few remains of the old garden in this heavenly island point to the sixteenth century. One front of the house with its protruding side loggia, and certain ideas that recall Alessi, the wide basin in front, and terraces simply articulated (which are almost unrecognisable now), a fine dolphin fountain up against the wall, all these meagre traces give way before the complete change the island has suffered into the style called “picturesque” of a botanical garden. At the present day the tall tropical plants form a delightful contrast to the sister island, Isola Bella (Fig. 269).

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 This was a mere flat rock of shining schist until Count Vitalione, partly led by caprice and partly attracted by almost overwhelming difficulties, was impelled to move his chief residence here from Isola Madre, to build a mighty castle with a garden behind, and in this way with a real Asiatic lordliness to defy Nature and erect upon a flat surface terraces and hills with high substructures (Fig. 270).

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Neither the house nor the remarkable harbour in front was ever finished ; but the garden still stands, scarcely altered, as a memorial of its creator’s ambitious and defiant spirit. On the side next to the lake the garden is in ten terraces (Fig. :271). 
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In the ornamentation of the five upper ones, mounting by steps that get smaller as they go up, it is possible that the architect had in mind some account of Babylonian hanging gardens. The narrow terraces were on three sides, the dividing walls were planted with lemons, and in front there were low clipped bushes. On the balustrades were a number of statues. Beside the house these five terraces are like a single wall of fantastic pattern, decked with grottoes and shell-work, and topped with a unicorn, the device of the Borromeo family (Fig. 272).

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 This wall forms the end of a planted court, whose entrance from the. other side skilfully conceals the break in the axis of house and garden. On the side by the lake the steep frontage is flanked by two strong round pavilions of two stories each a wide balcony projects below, and is laid out as a parterre.

The lower set of terraces, which have to accommodate themselves to the shape of the island, are clad in a stouter, more sombre vegetation, to support the structure, so to speak, by what looks like a basement (Fig. 273).

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 These have, growing by the side, both boskets of laurel and orange gardens, and they also have natural grottoes. Many of them have peculiar borders to give a more personal and intimate character, as a contrast to the grand spectacle of the garden at the front. They lead up to the side of the house, which finds its chief attraction in the magnificent view from the two terraces, The upper one is closed in on one side by a semi- circle treated with extreme delicacy, and a Hercules fountain, which serves as point de vue for the row of principal rooms. The garden is wanting in water, which plays a very poor part in the grottoes at the end of the terraces. Still, if any garden can afford to dispense with so enlivening a feature, it is certainly this one, for it is intimately connected with the lake all round it, and is helped by the contrast of colours and the unceasing change of the water's surface, shut in by towering hills. The charm of the island’s quiet beauty has always made a special appeal to a Northern fancy. In Jean Paul’s Titan it is revealed to the eyes of the hero, who is drunken with the joys of youth: from the opening scene onward, it takes every hue and tone that can be lent to it by sunrise, sunset, and the glistening moonbeams of a night in spring.

In these late Baroque gardens of Italy we see the final subjugation of that spirit of seclusion and private enjoyment which prevailed in the mediaeval garden. It now resigns—at any rate in its ornamental parts—that feeling of private life which it had before, and. has become like a picture hung up outside and inviting inspection. This feeling is expressed in another garden just as at Isola Bella—in Villa Garzoni at Collodi, which has kept its form scarcely altered since its foundation in the second half of the seventeenth century. Anyone, as he first approached the Villa Collodi near Lucca by its great entrance gate, and at one glance beheld the curious picture of this garden, full of rich colour, must have exclaimed in astonishment. Before him lies a parterre of level ground with a large circular basin in the middle (Fig. 275);

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 high hedges disguised as battlemented walls with pots and vases shut in the parterre at the side, and round it there are gay flower-beds in pretty arabesques, and box variously clipped into many different shapes. On a second parterre gradually ascending he sees the name and arms of the owner set out in box and various coloured stones. The effect is made perfect by hedges, pediments, and flower vases, and in addition to the figures made of box there are numerous white statues in baroque surroundings (Fig. 274).

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The garden is above in five narrow, steep terraces. Just as in the garden at Este, so here, the middle axis is marked out by niches and grottoes. The dividing walls and formal stairs are bordered with balustrades, and show an exuberance of figure decoration. As climax to the scene there is a foaming, glittering water stairway, with two female forms, Lucca and Florence, standing above it, while below two swans spout water into a basin. Above the steps there is a large cistern, and at its upper end a colossal hovering figure of Fame, who appears to be flying hastily out of a dense wood, while from her resounding horn she pours streams of water into the basin below, No tall tree is left uncut. The narrow terraces are uniformly enclosed by hedges, and adorned with niches and statues. At the end of the third terrace there is a theatre, with root and side-scenes cut out of the greenery, and statues in the walls, Close to the water stairway (which is also enclosed with a border) there is on both sides a thick plantation of oak, overtopped by the lordly cypresses on the upper terrace. Behind the figure of Fame, which stands above a grotto, are the baths, retired and almost hidden: though at one time they were fitted out with every kind of refined luxury, music-rooms and the like, they are now the only part of the whole garden that has completely fallen into decay.

One may easily believe that in a garden such as this there would be no lack of merry water- pranks. Visitors who entered the labyrinth lying in a concealed flower-garden between the house and the garden proper had to be wary, for a person wandering there might get suddenly wet through from spurts of water springing from a hidden side-path. The house itself lies on the top terrace at the side of the garden, with its whole width fronting towards the town, but it is very narrow. Its founder, Garzoni, who died in 1663, seems to have completed the greater part of the inner decoration (which is remarkably well preserved) and also of the garden. This is indeed a picture full of pride and beauty, which makes us able to interpret many a garden now run wild or entirely perished, that flourished at the classical period of Italian taste. For here we find Nature under complete control, and grown to be a wonderful architectural creation, with all the world of plant life subdued to ornament. And though in particular details we may detect bad art and poor taste, the Villa Collodi taken as a whole finely represents, like the Isola Bella, the splendid garden-craft of the North of Italy in the second half of the seventeenth century.

Roman gardens, however, were simpler and showed more distinction, and their creative power was destined to survive not only the days when French taste ruled the world, but those when there came about in England an actual revolution overthrowing all the most fundamental canons of architectural style in the garden. The Villa Albani (Fig. 276),

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 though built as late as the middle of the eighteenth century, has such a thoroughly Roman character that in spite of its late origin it may fitly be taken as the last link in our Italian history. For Germans the very name of it has an intimate sound, because it was Winckelmann who advised Cardinal Albani, the founder of the villa. Though Winckelmann may have had little to do with the form of the garden, yet the classical feeling lived in him and because of him had its effect in all the many parts of this whole. The cardinal followed Roman tradition in that he considered house and garden first and foremost as frames for his antique art-treasures. So Villa Albani stands in the series of villas, Medici, Mattei, and Casino Borghese, as the last of all to flower.

The garden has the double axis form, suiting the two entrance gates. Of these the Entrata nobile on the Via Salaria leads first to the thicket at the side of the casino, which perhaps has felt the influence of the star formation of Villa Ludovisi and other prede- cessors, and the points of the star are marked by statues (Fig. 277). 

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The main avenue leads first, from a granite pillar with the family arms above, to a pair of steps that mount to a higher terrace. This terrace is simply laid out with stretches of grass and fountains, whence one proceeds on a stairway to the chief parterre lower down, and this in turn is shut off by a hedge on the far side from an orangery, where the view comes to an end with a beautiful fountain, In former days one saw a grand prospect over the Campagna to the blue boundary of the Sabine hills, but now the roving glance sees merely what it would avoid—a mass of lodging-houses close at hand. The second main axis goes through the casino, which with spreading pillared halls stands high above the great ornamental parterre (Fig. 278).

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 One goes down by steps, finding the beds, with arabesque designs in box, arranged in the style of the day, connected together by the eagle fountains in the central axis, and round them oranges in coloured pots, just as they were to be seen in the earliest gardens (Fig. 279).

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 A semicircular portico, reminiscent of the theatre at Frascati, stands at the end, with a couple of rooms in it, and this corresponds with the pure classical style of the house in simplicity and distinction. The third and lowest of the terraces lies behind the portico called the coffee-house.

In this part, which leads along a canal to a second entrance gate, we clearly see the suggestion of the rococo style of garden that is coming hither from the North, Later on this place has to be considered again, as it falls out of line with the ornamental garden proper. The cardinal ornamented it with the most exquisite works of art, which had for the most part been collected for him by Winckelmann. Even to this day we find here and there a Hermes or a bust set up on its tall plinth; and there are statues also standing among the green hedges, which are still clipped even now (Fig. 280). 

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The most conspicuous of the antiques were kept in the palace itself, in the coffee-house, or in the so-called bigliardo—really a small casino near the side of the house, built upon a terrace on the same level behind a group of oaks, where at the present time a bust of Winckelmann is set up. Like the pergola with its water basin (Fig. 281) all these places are of a dignified plainness and simplicity.

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The villa is a work of art which has remained faithful to the ideas that belong to its own nationality, and has preserved the Roman character at a period when the new French spirit had already wrought destruction on many noble works—and that even on Italian soil. It seems as though the art of the past, which took into its service two such men as Cardinal Albani and Winckelmann, has been able to encase itself in some protective shell, garment, or frame, whereby it rests immune from every infection of unworthy trifling or baroque excesses, even in the most insignificant details.