The Landscape Guide

Early Baroque gardens in Italy

Villa Castello Garden 
Villa d'Este Garden 
Villa Pia Garden
Villa Lante Garden 

Farnese Garden in Rome

Pallazo Farnese Garden at Caparola

Villa Campi Garden 

Pratolino Garden (Parco Demidoff)

Activity broke out once more in the forties at Florence. Scarcely was the rule of the Medici family established, when Cosimo was made duke, before he started on the building of his beloved place, Villa Castello, on the north-west of Florence (Fig. 174).

 [Montaigne's description of the Villa Castello is on the CD]

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 The Villa Castello garden, in its main lines, is well preserved, though it has lost much of its ornament. A detailed description by Vasari helps us to reconstruct its original form (Fig. 175).

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 The house had already been laid out by Cosimo’s father, and the duke entrusted Tribolo, the artist employed at his house, with the surroundings of the place and the gardens. The plans were interrupted by Tribolo’s early death, and were only finished in part, but the garden itself, if not finished, was made in all essentials. After so many architects who were painters (at Villa Madama, Palazzo del Te, Villa Imperiale, Villa dei Collazzi) there was now a sculptor to deal with, and his chief interest in art is clearly seen in his work.

The place gained its name, as Vasari says, from a Roman reservoir, which served the water conduit from Valdimara to Florence. Tribolo made use of this when forming two cisterns in front of the garden, at the entrance by the road. They were separated by a bridge, and two fountains on the outer wall discharged their waters into them. An avenue of mulberry-trees, their branches meeting overhead, seems to have passed all the way from the Arno to the house, and over this bridge. On both sides a prato made part of the front garden, and in the chief garden behind the house there was also a prato on a gently rising hill. It was a favourite notion in Florentine villas that the house should stand in a green carpet of meadow, and this is shown in those that have been preserved, as well as in the drawings made by Zocchi in the eighteenth century. There are a great many ground-plans kept in the Uffizi at Florence, and the prato is hardly ever absent.

To the east of the house is a domestic region, and to the left a giardino secreto, leading into the orchard, which was shut in by a fir wood, covering the dwellings of the workmen. The chief garden ascended by terraces northward, and was enclosed by a high wall at the side, ending in a cross-path containing niches with statues. From this ornamental green part a few steps lead up to the first terrace, on which stands the wonderful fountain of Antæus (Fig. 176). 

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Farther along is the labyrinth, which is circular, and is surrounded with cypresses and laurels. At one time there was a fine fountain in it, of a nymph squeezing water out of her hair (Fig. 177). 

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A low wall behind this terrace separates the garden from the orangery, which stands a little higher, The next terrace is very much higher, and the wall towards the hill is made use of for a deep grotto in three divisions, kept cool by water continually streaming. There was a remarkable work of art in this place—a King of Rain, in the form of an old man sitting with water flowing from every pore of his skin, beard and hair. Steps at the side led to the upper terrace, where there was a selvatico of cypresses, firs and other evergreens, beauti fully grouped in the form of a wedge and ending in a loggia with a wide basin in front. Vasari cannot find enough to say about these fine sculptures, which adorned the alcoves in the walls, and in their subjects showed subtle reference to the House of the Medici. But all of them have long since vanished.

To Vasari a gently rising ground—one in which the ascent was scarcely noticed, and yet which provided a lovely view over landscape and town—seems to have been particularly attractive. Only the highest terrace of all is reached by steep paths, and the real pleasure- garden below is shut in sharply by the wood on the hill. This makes a delightful end to the view as seen from the house. The latter cannot have been finished according to Tribolo’s plan, for it is not in the right axial line with the garden : Tribolo would be sure to put a central balcony from which one could look over the whole of the garden. He always had to contend with a scarcity of water, which limited the outlying parts. But when Montaigne saw the garden in 1580, he was delighted with the fountains—especially the full stream that poured out of the mouth of Antæus—the Rain Grotto, and the many playful water-works in the labyrinth. The plantation as he saw it agrees entirely with Vasari’s description. He loved the thick arbour-like aisle of evergreen that overshadowed all the walks. He saw the place first in winter, and was almost disappointed to find how little it had changed at the best time of the year.

The chief sign of change here was the disappearance of the variegated flowery pastures of mediaeval and early Renaissance gardens, for, in order to satisfy the love of flowers and plants, the separated gardens, giardini secreti, had been invented and laid out, and these are what we find at Castello at the side of the house under the windows of the private rooms. A flower-garden still bore the name of giardino dei semplici (garden of simples), and it is obvious that medicinal herbs were grown there, as formerly in the Middle Ages, for there are fountains of Æsculapius set up in the middle, Vasari and Montaigne both noted another peculiarity at Castello. They describe an old oak bound with ivy, outside the actual precincts, in whose branches Tribolo had fixed a seat reached by steps made of wood. In the ivy there were hidden pipes, which, to the delight of visitors, poured streams of water up into the air. We know of these tree seats from ancient times, and have observed them in the Middle Ages. Montaigne also says that he met with them in his travels in Germany, and often in Switzerland. In Tuscany they seem to have been very common. There is a good example on the side terrace of Villa Petraia, and one of the largest can be seen in a drawing by Della Bella of another Medicean villa, Pratolino (Fig. 178). 

 [Montaigne's description of Pratolino  is on the CD]

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Thus the water devices at Castello derive from old and distant ancestors. We have seen how, in literature at any rate, the influence of the tree fountain was apparent, having come from the Orient during the Middle Ages. Now, instead of the Eastern magnificence of precious metals and costly wood, we find pipes in the ivy.

At the time Castello was built, the fourth decade of the sixteenth century, terraces had come to be the chief feature of Italian gardens. The plans which Serlio of Bologna expounds in his book on architecture have almost always a highly elaborated scheme of terraces and stairways. The building is generally put half-way up the ascent—in any case it is so placed that it is possible to get a terrace in front to serve as entrance, and the chief garden behind mounting by several terraces.

We are compelled to think of what is done by very different artists in very different places. The middle of the century—a time that is characterised by the beginnings of the Baroque style in architecture—shows at one glance, in any number of works, a complete mastery over ail departments of the garden. The leading principle of the new art is expressed in striking words by Ammanati in a letter to Guidi: “ Objects that are enclosed by walls must guide and control all things that are planted.” That these objects enclosed by walls are first and foremost terraces with their adjuncts of stairways, dividing walls, alcoves, grottoes, and the connected water-works, will be evident from the examples which have been preserved in great numbers.

Genoa must have been a favourable spot for garden development at this stage, though the hills, rising steeply from the sea, gave no level ground for the gardens, which naturally lay a little outside the circumference of the town; and so for the most part the terraces had to be rather narrow ones. The architect who laid out this ground in the most artistic manner was Galeazzo Alessi. He gave a peculiar style to Genoa about the middle of the century by reason of his architectural achievements.

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After all the destruction suffered in the nineteenth century (in particular by Genoese villas and palaces) there is in what remains one example at least of great beauty which has come down to us from the past, and that is the Palazzo Doria. The great domain that reaches down to the sea from the top of the mountain on which the church of San Rocco stands was presented to Andrea Doria by the Senate. Andrea had the palace rebuilt by Montorsoli, a pupil of Michael Angelo, in the year 1530, and the laying out of the gardens belongs to the following decades. The palace with its airy loggias on both sides, and inner rooms adorned with frescoes by Raphaelts pupil Penn di Vaga, lies at the foot of the hill, so that its gardens are in two separate groups (Fig. 179): the fairly level front garden stretching to the sea, and the steep garden on the hill, which is nearly at the same height as the church and separated from the palace by the road. 
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This cutting into two parts, unfavourable as it was, the architect made use of in the clever way in which he connected the whole garden. He made bridges starting from the first story and leading to the lowest terrace of the garden on the hill. In front this lowest hill-terrace (according to the survey made by Gauthier, a French architect of the earlier half of the nineteenth century) was cut off by a long bower-like avenue, and behind and at the side ended in pavilions. The axial line of the steeply ascending terraces is clearly marked by an octagonal fountain, with stairs, and other fountains in the dividing wall. At the very end is enthroned the Giant, a naked statue of Jupiter in an alcove; and at his feet, according to the inscription, lies the beloved dog of the Doria family, “ il gran Roedano,” a gift from Charles V. These terraces were chiefly planted with fruit, such as oranges and vines, and Evelyn has special praise for them, A wide gallery, supported on pillars of marble, and balustraded, makes a way by the sea to the flower-garden, and also serves the purpose of making less steep the sharp descent from palace to garden. On both sides there are two giardini secreti, now adorned with very pretty fountains. 

 [Evelyn's description of the Palazzo Doria  is on the CD]

In one of the gardens Evelyn was still able to see a large aviary, in which, under an iron building, trees two feet in diameter served as an asylum for birds, From the open court steps led into the flower-garden (Fig. 180), which was laid out as a sunk lawn; for it was cut off on the sea side by a high gallery led up to by steps at the side.

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 There were grottoes below. The greatest ornament of this garden was obtained at the end of the century in the fountain of Neptune which is ascribed to Canone. The god has the features of Andrea, and is represented as standing in a handsome basin, oblong in shape, with eagles, and surrounded by sea deities, The original site can still be seen, as there are some four-cornered beds and two smaller fountains and pergolas. There were more gardens that reached right down to the sea; and it looked as though the Doria family wished to show its power over the city in this huge estate, which stood before Genoa like a barrier.

In this villa Alessi also found his model for the terraces round Genoa and the villas in that neighbourhood, which he and his pupils erected with such know- ledge and skill, In most cases the house is half-way up the hill, so that it may command handsome terraces and stairways in front; but unfortunately there is scarcely anything to be seen now of all these villas, and it is only from Gauthier’s ground-plans and elevations that we can recover the form of them. At the Villa Pallavicini the front entrance is beauti fully worked ont: there is a terrace in three divisions with balustraded steps; and two large cisterns on the upper terrace have given the villa the extra name of “ della Peschiera.”

This approach was evidently planted with oranges, and also had arbour-like walks and strips of flower-beds. The garden at the back, where there was a way up, had two fountains in it, and a whole set of plans by Gauthier are very much alike.

There is a variation in the Villa Scassi at Sanpier d’Arena, which has kept its old look very well, The house here is near the road, and the gardens behind it are on very high, broad terraces enlivened by grottoes and cisterns, a casino and a reservoir standing on the top one. The view taken as a whole is most imposing when seen from the palace. In all matters of terrace sites, and especially steps, Alessi had to contend with one great difficulty: the steep, sheer mountain-side about Genoa supplied very few springs, and since his buildings were wanting in this cheerful feature, they appeared rather tame and monotonous, in spite of the wealth of his artistic ideas and devices.

The Villa d’Este at Tivoli shows clearly what a great advantage it is to an artist to have a natural supply of water, This place must always stand out as the finest specimen of Italian gardening in the period of Baroque. A combination of natural and artificial arrangements—nearly always unsuccessful—has here resulted in a work that keeps an ineradicable beauty in spite of every disaster wrought by time and lapses in taste. The spectator is made to feel that knowledge and skill make all things safe. All anxiety, all experimental work, has vanished, for the artist has made use of Nature, and has mastered her. House and garden are the work of a single mind, and woven together into one complex whole.

 [Montaigne's description of Villa d'Este and Evelyn's description of the Villa d'Este are on the CD]

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Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, who went to Tivoli as governor in 1549 was fascinated by the lovely view that opened from the top of the hill towards the Sabine Mountains and the high-lying town of Montorsoli on the north. He wished to build his house on the hill, and the terrace-garden had to be brought into strict line with the chief axis. The ridge of the hill was towards the north-west, but he paid no attention to that, and laid out his garden plan due north, thus necessitating a wall structure of colossal size for nearly half the west side of the garden. Ippolito was not the man to shrink from difficulty or extravagance; and so his garden fell into two divisions, one level, and the other ascending to the house by five steep terraces. The terraces were joined to one another by diagonal paths and side steps. The middle line (Fig. 181), starting from the central gate of the house, is indicated in simpler form by a repetition of the scheme of the great gate in those smaller entrances that occur in the dividing walls between the terraces; they all serve as means of getting into the grottoes. This axial line is emphasised by the large dragon fountain, flanked by immense steps, on the fifth terrace (Fig. 182).
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 There are smaller fountains in the middle of the other terraces, A sixteenth-century drawing by the French artist Dupérac shows the whole garden completed with most of its water- works (Fig. 183).

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The architect arranged to have an enormous quantity of rushing water. One part of the Anio, which poured its waters over the hill, was conducted thence into the garden on the east side, and the artist made use of  it to mark the cross-paths in an effective way. The flat part and the terraced part are marked off by four large basins (Fig. 184), 
Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see


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


and the water rises at the east side and ends in an imposing water organ (Figs. 185 and 186) from which a great cascade pours into a cistern below, its roaring sound contrasting with the gentle ripple; to the west there is a projection, but no trace remains of its device, and it may not have been completed. A second crossway line begins with the third terrace and the

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


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


eastern water-works. Gigantic blocks of tufa, with a Pegasus on the top, receive the rush of the water. In little irregular niches were water deities, now overgrown (Fig. 187). Under the rock there is a semicircular walk with columns round a huge oval basin, and between them niches with statues. The three remaining sides of this theatre of the waters are walled in, and on the southern side which cuts into the mountain there is another bathing grotto. A narrow passage through leads from this theatre to the main walk (Fig. 188), 

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by the side of which as it passes along the hill there are three canals in steps, with any number of sculptures—eagles, little boats, and grotesques, spurting out their water from one canal into another. There are relief carvings between, depicting the Metamorphoses of Ovid. On the west this path leads to the most peculiar object of the baroque garden, for on a semicircular bay in the wall there stands a puppet-show of a town. In the centre sits enthroned a Minerva, much too big as compared with the buildings. The little town bears the proud name of Roma Triumphans. Under it is another water theatre, including a fountain with artificial singing-birds.

The effect of the level garden, which lies on the other side of the cistern as far as the way out on the north, depended more on the manner of its planting, and consequently has suffered more since it was first laid out. The oldest drawing we have shows the main crossways covered with lattice-work, and in the middle the four paths are united by a temple; also on the four sides there are other smaller temples adorning the beds. These no doubt had flowers planted between the fruit-trees; but Evelyn, who saw the garden in 1644, calls it by its old name of medicinal garden or physic garden (garden of simples), This part, alone and separately bordered, shows the mark of the Middle Ages very distinctly; and the same is true of the four labyrinths lying at the side, except that they are distinctly part of the general plan. Evelyn also mentions four pretty little gardens near the house, but rather vaguely, and perhaps he means at the side, where there may well have been four giardini secreti.

The first picture clearly shows how thoroughly we must get rid of the fantastic impression, if we want to know how things were at the beginning, which is made nowadays by the dense overgrown gardens, the monotonous rushing streams, and the tall cypresses. These cypresses especially, which are so important from the architectural point of view, and give dignity to the garden as it is now, most of all in the " Rondello," had as at San Vigilio no place in the original scheme. Instead of avenues we find in the older gardens that the paths are bordered with clipped myrties and laurels, often with arching branches, or else bowers with lattice-work shading the main walks. After this was added a plantation strictly kept in place, which increased the cheerful festive feeling of it all, and also there was much painting of grottoes, walls, and buildings, that left some traces even in the nineteenth century.

But the chief delight of early visitors to the Villa d'Este was in the lively play of the waters, for which they were apt to overlook everything else. Whether it is Montaigne who sees the garden ‘at the end of the sixteenth century, or Evelyn forty years later, or again in the eighteenth century the Chevalier de Brosses, it is always the water-devices that make the chief part of their description. Montaigne was able to see most of them in action, and he describes the water organ as the most wonderful: below it is a continual splashing rain on the borders of the cisterns. These cisterns seem to be more altered than anything else, and the first drawing shows in each of the middle ones a small building, possibly a breeding-place for water-fowl, The side ones were to be bridged over, but later sketches let this go, and the borders are orna- mented with vases and other floral decoration (Fig. 184). Montaigne also takes an interest in the dragon of the centre fountain, and the singing birds in the western theatre. On another side he notices a noise like the thunder of cannon, and on yet another the water makes the sound of fireworks. He enjoys, however, most of all—and so does everybody else—the water-tricks which now play an increasing and excessive part in the Italian gardens of the Renaissance. Soon no garden could be found without them, and its charm came to be estimated according to the number of surprises. The most enlightened people, even Leonardo da Vinci, were not ashamed to work their inventions with mechanical figures, thus pandering to the childish fashion of the day. And since it always happened that unwary visitors got wet through, we wonder whether the grand dresses of that time did not suffer, for, according to a handbook, “ nobody was spared, however much of a potentate he might be, and many princes and such-like people went there.”

If we would understand the garden aright, we must imagine it peopled with a host of statues, and not only antiques such as the cardinal had brought from the neighbouring villa of Hadrian, but also copies of Renaissance statues, such as Michael Angelo’s Moses, the nude woman by Giacomo della Porta on the monument to Paul III., and many others. Even till the end of the seventeenth century the villa was kept in a good state. It was perhaps in the earlier half that its more serious character was maintained by planting cypresses; and the Rondel of Cypresses (Fig. 189) has only kept the pediments of its wonderful statues and fountains, to be used as flower-stands (Fig. 190).

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


In the eighteenth century the villa suffered a sudden collapse, for the house, which had never been completed in front, was neglected, the garden ran wild, and the statues were sold, Pope Innocent XIII. bought a great many of the best in 1753 for his collection at the Capitol. At a later date Winckelmann saw the villa in such a state “ that one feared at unless speedy help was sent it might soon be like many others which had been robbed for its enrichment.” Yet its treasures in statuary seemed inexhaustible; and although Winckelmann procured some marvellous antiques for Cardinal Albani, the value of those that were left was put at 8196 scudi. In the year 1792 a canon of Hamburg could find nothing worthy of praise except “ the picturesque beauty in these long-forsaken gardens of cypresses and groups of firs, towering above the thick laurel bushes.” In the nineteenth century there was more care bestowed on the garden, but one bit of this secluded spot, the pond on the east, was sacrificed to the spirit of the time—the English taste then dominant, with its twisting, interlacing paths.

In spite of everything an observing eye can detect the original idea by the help of its very clear ground-plan, which makes a complete unity of house and garden for the first time, subordinating every sort of planting to the great skeleton scheme of the whole. The name of Pirro Ligorio has never been expressly mentioned, but one may assume that, as he was architect to the Este family at this date, the design was his, especially as he spent a long time at Tivoli studying Hadrian’s Villa. He certainly did get inspiration for his own work from the bold style of the antique, especially in the case of the supporting walls under the Poikile Terrace. The way the little town is placed is also an argument for Ligorio: he was able in a small way to accomplish what in a large way was impossible, the reconstruction of the ruins of ancient Rome. It was a princely castle that Ligorio was to erect in the Villa d'Este it was to appear enthroned, so to speak, towering above the lanci- scape. Here the cardinal desired to live part of his time with a great company of noble friends, for whom he would hold festival. In his garden a merry, noisy party would wander about and lose their way, seen and admired from below. The many hued picture was a wonderful background for feasting and play, and all the sounds of waters chimed in with their gaiety.

The artist made another essay of a very different kind, when after Ippolito went to France he was attached to the Pope’s service, and was entrusted by Pius IV. with the building of a little casino, the Villa Pia, behind the Vatican. This commission involved the laying out or perhaps reconstruction of the gardens there. The sunk lawn (giardino secreto) may have been made somewhat earlier (Fig. 191, No. 14). This place is very deep in the ground, and has walls that are used as espaliers, with a few grottoes left between them. 

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


The paths, as always in these early parterres, are arched over with foliage; there is a pavilion where they cross, and in the squares left between them there are simple rectangular flower-beds. This is the first example of a sunk parterre, so common later on. They had the same purpose as the giardini secreti near the house, that of providing a retreat, slightly sheltered and enclosed, for the master of the house.

The whole plan of the garden is fairly simple, and shows no ambitious architectural notions, and there was no place built where people could sit and rest. Possibly the Pope felt this was a disadvantage, for he bade Ligorio make a pleasure - house farther to the south, called Villa Pia after him, and all the more needed now that the old Belvedere had been turned into a sculpture gallery. It was to be a kind of summer-house for the afternoons, where the Pope might retire either alone or with a select circle of friends (Fig. 191, No. 10, and Fig. 192). There is only one bedroom, which may mean that he was sometimes able to sleep there alone. A real treasure came to lignt when the architect had fulfilled these demands. The casino itself is preserved: there is a fine front erection with an open loggia, standing like a kind of fountain-shrine at a cistern fed from masks, and decorated with statues and caryatides at the façade (Fig. 193).

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


This place is connected in front with the main building by an oval court. On the side elegant steps lead to round seats, and from them one passes into the court by way of small triumphal gates; in the middle of it is a fountain with a boy’s figure, and benches all round to sit on (Fig. 193a). There remain to this day most of the carving in relief on the façade, the loggia, and the arched gates; and in spite of the yellow wash that disfigures the building with its ugly coat, there still remain from the beauti ful past age delightful grotesques and coloured mosaics on the side of the stairs. 44 To this severely symmetrical building a tower is added behind on the left as though one final note was needed to extend the impression of grace and charm over the whole place.”

The villa was cut out of the woody hill. Its walls were close to the house behind, hiding the whole of its back (which was never elaborately worked out), and were no doubt concealed in the tops of thick trees, which gave a feeling of peace to the bedrooms where their shade and gentle rustling sound would penetrate. The villa stands by itself, and is really the only thing that constitutes the front view, and according to the architect’s plan should open on a sunk lawn with regularly set beds. The semicircular part in front of the fountain house is sunk, with a few steps leading up out of it to the lawn, so that it is suitable for a nymphæum, shady in the afternoons. Garden and loggia both contained choice antiques. Thus the garden was nothing more than an ornamental place in front of the house, which was itself only a garden house. It was left open, and looked very cheerful and bright, but one half was shaded by the dark trees that reached to three sides of the real villa. This was exactly the place for pleasant talk and gossip in the cool of the evening in the hours appointed for leisure, so enjoyed by this happy, lovable Pope. His successor, the stern fanatic Pius V., destroyed this lovely thing. First he purged it, and the Belvedere garden also, of heathenish statues, and then handed it over to his physician who (to suit the Pope’s fancy for botany) planted it with palms and foreign plants; and of course the palms were fatal to the original intention of the place, and ruined the view from the villa (Fig. 194).

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At the end of the century all the gardens on this hill must have been called Belvedere, unless Duke Frederick of Würtemberg was making a mistake, when in 1599 he saw the Pope’s palace, He describes the walk from the Vatican by a long covered path “ where there are people walking about and playing ball,” and says that one comes to a pleasure-garden “ not large but full of fine statues “ (the Laocoon among them). "Out of these one walks into another garden, the Belvedere, that has fine pleasure-houses, tanks, and pretty foreign plants, among them a date palm, also a little pleasure-garden for walking in in the summer time, put there for the pleasure of hearing the birds sing.”  The character of this little wood has been constantly altered according to the taste of the different Popes. Magnificent fountains and grottoes were there in the course of the seventeenth century. The destruction of the woods and complicated walks first began in the nineteenth century, and continued till in the saddest days of the decay of art the very end and crown of bad taste was achieved and set on the mountain top—the erections of the last period of the Papacy, a pleasure-house like a dreary barracks, and beside it the glittering temple which imitates the grotto of Lourdes, a memorial to the victory of Neo-Catholicism, At its feet there lies in sleep, forsaken and lonely, like a wild rose, the artistry of the High Renaissance, wherein the architect knew how to make of garden and house one simple whole in intimate connection and sympathy.

The peculiarity of Italian art that exalts it above any other age and country is its severe and sure development, and that artistic feeling which makes every separate work individual, sui generis. Even before Ligorio had carried out his idea of complete unity between house and garden, his great rival Vignola was attempting to create a real garden architecture emancipated from house considerations. He received a commission from Pope Paul III. to make the so-called Farnese Gardens (Fig. 195).

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 Possibly there was a garden in earlier days at the top of the Palatine between the ruins, In the year 1538 Annibale Caro mentions a fountain made of a combination of wooden blocks and rustica. This would be one of the fountains, such as we are familiar with from the nymphæum at Villa Madama, that are often used for adorning the more remote parts of gardens. Of this place we hear nothing further; but the present condition of a flat part of the hill and beds enclosed by green hedges may quite well point to the existence of an earlier garden.

The new part, due to the great designer of stairways, is the grand ascent from Campo Vaccino, the Roman Forum, where one walked by five terraces to a level garden region. A great triumphal arch led from the Forum to a semicircular theatre cut into the hill- side, with statues and grottoes (Fig. 196). 

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The central part was interrupted by wide level steps, going up to an immense grotto, which still shows traces of its former stucco decorations, and with a great amount of now useless water bears witness to the number of fountains that were once there. The balustraded terraces get more and more ornamented as they mount higher, with their evergreen hedges and flower-beds.

Especially handsome stairs lead up to the walls on the highest terrace, and reach the top of the garden ground where there are two bird-houses placed obliquely. The reason for their situation is obvious: the architect wanted to present a view from the Forum of his building as a grand finished whole. The terraces come to an end as though forming a palace façade in one piece, with the two aviaries like towers at the sides (Fig. 197).

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 Their oblique position gave an illusion of greater length by a deceiving trick of perspective. This imposing creation of Vignola’s fell a victim to archæological zeal, for Napoleon made his first excavations here, and the little that one sees now cannot last long. There are a few remains of decoration, especially pretty graffiti on the upper wall, and a few entrances to grottoes, that suggest the beauty of the place as it was. The chief charm of the great level garden lies in the encircling ruins of the Palatine, and the view of the remains of the Forum. From this side the aviaries look nothing but what they really are—little pavilions. The garden is without any sort of dwelling-house, and was simply and solely a place to stroll about in; and only a small casino in the south corner offered any protection from bad weather.

Vignola was also employed by the successor of Paul III,, the restless dilettante Julius III,, at the Villa Papa Giulio that he built on the Via Flaminia. As at the neighbouring Villa Madama, a very fine place was designed, and the gardens were to cover the hill almost as far as Ponte Molle. But it is hard to determine now how much was actually carried out, just as one can scarcely find out which part is due to the several artists: Michael Angelo, Vasari, Vignola, and Ammanati. Vasari says that he is responsible for the fine plans of the best court which is still preserved, the so-called nymphæum. This little court is sunk between two larger garden courts, of which the one in front is separated from the house by a semicircular hall, and on its other three sides ends in corridors (Fig, 198).

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 Now it is planted with rose-beds hedged in, which imitate the plan of the originator even if they are not exactly in the old style. Through the pillared hall at the back one passes out to the terrace looking on the nymphæum, which is reached by semicircular steps. On the other side concealed steps lead to the pillared hall which is at the end of the thfrd court. Thus is attained the impression of quiet, cool seclusion that is desired in a nymphæum (Fig. 199).

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As the terrace and the square with the nymphæum and its surrounding canal are both paved, the question of plantation does not arise; but the little fountains always splashing at the grottoes encouraged the greenery, and on the stone floor oranges and laurels were always placed in the summer time. The grotto of caryatides was very attractive, and treated with much delicacy, as also were the borders to the doors that were at the exit of the canal. This cool, secluded place, and a few rooms in grottoes that may be classed with it, are all that have remained of the richly planted gardens of the Pope whose fancies earned so much praise, for the two other courts are quite bare, and one can scarcely see where they were. If more had been preserved of the gardens of Pope Julius, at a villa to which he gave devoted attention for years, we should now possess an example of the suburban villa of the very best period, comparable with what, by the help of our imagination, we are able to see in a. villa built at the beginning of the High Renaissance— that is, in the Villa Madama.

A happy accident of fate has preserved one real treasure, he Villa Lante at Bagnaia (Fig.200), though it is far away from Rome and comparatively modest in size. It stands next to the Villa d’Este at Tivoli in expressing the true spirit of this period.  [Montaigne's description of the Villa Lante  is on the CD]

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We have no information or even tradition concerning the architect, but the fact that Vignola was busy at the time for the Farnese family at Caprarola, which is close by, and still more the well-thought-out scheme that suggests a great architect, cannot fail to lead later inquirers to the opinion that here too we have an example of Vignola’s work, At any rate it is not likely that we ought to see, as some do, the combined work of several architects, belonging to a flourishing provincial school, in this villa which is so important in showing the development of garden architecture. Bagnaia and the country round about clearly belonged to the bishopric of Viterbo as early as the twelfth century, and Raniero, one of the bishops of the fourteenth century, had a hunting-lodge where the Villa Lante now stands, the remains of which can be seen in the stables at the present day. We also hear that a bishop of Viterbo in the fifteenth century, a Cardinal Riario, put up buildings, but these have certainly disappeared entirely. There is no doubt that Julius III. handed them over for a time to one of his nephews, and it is possible that at this time Vignola’s plan was made. But the first proper master of the place was Cardinal Gambara, who in the period 1560—80 laid out the ornamental gardens in all their essentials.

The task set before the architect was not unlike that of the Farnese gardens. The Villa Lante was to be a place to live in, however, for it was not inside the great city, but close by a little country town, and therefore the plan had to keep the character of a summer residence in the country, even though the building was to be splendid and actually princely in style. So the architect made two houses instead of one, and although they were put up in the most important position they gave to the garden the advantage of keeping an unbroken line the whole way (Fig. 201). 

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It starts from an ornamental parterre and ascends to the highest terraces of all, which are cut out of a thick wood. This was an immeasurable advantage, especially from the point of view of water arrangements, wherein Villa Lante almost stands supreme. The two casinos, both on the first terrace, are backed by the garden, and overlook the parterre, at the bottom of which there is a loggia on pillars. They are in fine, simple form, and give an extraordinarily good and serious effect to the general scheme. If there had been more adornment, such as open loggias, in the top story, they would have looked too much like mere garden pavilions, whereas they keep all the character of dwelling-houses.

The first description and earliest mention of the garden comes from Montaigne. He saw the villa in 1580, when it still belonged to Cardinal Gambara. At that time only one casino had been built, although there is no doubt that two had been planned from the beginning, for Montaigne saw the whole water region, which makes the middle line in the garden, already finished except for trifling alterations that were made afterwards. He specially praises the clear, sparkling water in the fountains, and in this respect prefers this villa to the Villa d’Este. He found an authority on fountains at work, " Monsieur Thomas de Sienne,” whose inventive genius, according to Montaigne, had already been employed on the Villa d’Este. Soon after Montaigne had seen this villa in its early days, it passed by inheritance to the nephew of Sixtus V., Cardinal Montalto. And in his lifetime appeared the earliest drawing that shows both pavilions and the completed garden (Fig. 202)—in the same surroundings as at present, thanks to the good care taken by the Lante family, who have lived there for hundreds of years.

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The parterre on the lowest terrace is very fine indeed. It is cut off from the town by a high wall with a great gate in it, and one can look at it through a wrought-iron grill. The centre of the parterre is occupied by a fountain with water basins round it; these are square, with their corners rounded off, and are balustraded. In the middle of the circular space thus formed stand four figures of nude boys supporting the arms of Montalto, viz .three hills with a star on the top, with their hands raised high. 

The arms show that this group originates with the Montalto family, and Montaigne saw in its place a pyramid of water throwing its foam first high then low, There were four little ships in the four basins, and Montaigne saw with delight four diminutive musketeers shooting water at the pyramid, or blowing through their trumpets with a great noise (Fig. 203). 

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Now the ships bear a freight of flowers, under which are concealed small shapes that are unrecognisable. The upper parterre has formal beds, encircled by a low lattice-work of wood. The enclosing hedges, such as we use nowadays, were not quite unknown at that date, but did not become general till the middle of the seventeenth century.

From this parterre the garden rises by low terraces. The incline between the two houses probably always had, as it has now, the name and arms of the owner cut out in box. On the terrace behind the houses, which have now become one-storied, we first come to shade, which is entirely absent from the lawn. Two thickets of chestnut-trees with fountains as ornament are on either side, The dividing wall that supports the next step has on it rows of pillars in two stories, the upper ones used as aviaries; but the middle part is kept open for a fountain, which casts its waters in many streams down the steps. The upper terrace is traversed through the middle by a long narrow tank, and at the end there are two mighty river-gods in the wall beside a semicircular watch-tower, at which a crayfish (Gambero) pours out water from his claws, while his body, made like a long canal, carries on the straight line to the terrace above, which now leads us to a beautiful fountain with hedges and seats all round.

The uppermost terrace ends in a lovely nymphæum, a grotto between two open loggias fronting the garden, and this serves as a reservoir for the mountain stream. On either side of the loggias there were again aviaries apparently built as corridors round a plantation of trees with a wire net above: the drawing calls this place “ aviarium cum nemore,” and it was very likely the same sort of thing that Evelyn saw at Genoa in the Doria Palace. The actual bird-houses are no longer there, nor is the lower part that the drawing calls “ cryptoporticus.” A few pillars are left standing upright, and in the upper part pigs have succeeded the birds of the air. But the aviary, as we saw more strikingly in the orti Farnesiani, has become an important feature of garden architecture, The garden now makes use of all the ideas handed down by tradition, but in such a way that each is individually subordinated to the plan of the whole. In this garden symmetry is for the first time to be found everywhere. Its designer insists that the garden’s main axis must coincide with that of the water. Ligorio seems to have taken some pains to avoid this at Villa d’Este, for he made the main axis cut right through the water, so that, in spite of its great abundance, we have to look for it in many different parts and never find one whole scheme. It has already been pointed out how much this particular circumstance (of being able to follow the course of the water the whole way) helps the feeling of symmetry and unity.

It is not, however, only the water; the manner of planting also happily supports the architectural scheme in this case; for the higher ‘we get, away from the low-growing, bright flowers on the lawn (called in the drawing “ hortuli con fonticuli “), the nearer we get to shade and the darker kind of plantation, while the uppermost terrace is bounded right and left by pine woods. To the west of the flower-garden lies the park, which is shown in the early drawing, and is still recognizable by the help of the well- preserved fountains, although the woody region is naturally much wilder now. The park is evidently not older than Montalto’s time, for Montaigne says nothing about it. Severe symmetry has given way to a laxer plan, and great avenues, some of them converging into a star-like shape, others following the line of the terraces, help to make this impression. The place is enlivened by a number of fountains set up at the end of an avenue. Or beside some resting-place. The fine cistern below these fountains makes a striking appearance at the lower entrance, which is cut out of the hill in a picturesque fashion and prettily ornamented.

We have here one of the earliest examples of Italian pleasure-parks, and it is the more remarkable because very few of these are now to be found. More and more the great woodland parks for animals disappeared during the sixteenth century; people began to enclose their property more thriftily, and this we shall find signs of even in the seventeenth century, though in a somewhat different form. One meets but seldom with such a thicket as we have found here, which is a park neither for animals nor for plants. It is too small for either of these; being only about twice as big as the flower-garden, and there are no cages of any kind; so it must be intended merely for a pleasant spot to walk about in. Anyhow the Italian parks, except only a few that are fast disappearing, have either quite run wild or been remodelled after the English fashion. All the more thankfully do we hail the care shown in the preservation of every part of the Villa Lante.

Whatever is thought of Vignola’s share in the villas just described, nobody can refuse him the glory of having created the most notable country house of the Renaissance for his old patrons the Farnesi: the Palazzo Farnese at  Caprarola near Viterbo. Certainly a ground-plan was in existence before, and the elder Cardinal Alessandro Farnese had had a fortress built by Peruzzi; the younger San Gallo no doubt took some part in its design or in its execution. When Vasari says in another place that Caprarola is due to the design and invention of Vignola, he is quite right in so far that Vignola converted a fortress-like ground-plan, a pentagon with protruding corners, into an imposing yet cheerful pleasure-house (Fig. 204).  [Evelyn's description of the Palazzo Farnese  is on the CD]

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 At that time people were very fond of making experiments with ground-plans, and Serlio recommended great variety in the form of country houses, saying once that after much consideration he had come to think that the form of a windmill would not be at all bad. The plan that he appends shows a certain similarity to Caprarola: there is a central building with projecting corners, and a circular court.

Serlio had thought of this villa as having gardens all round it, but Vignola put a grand terrace-approach on one of its sides, and added balustrades, grottoes, and fountains in the dividing walls. One has to imagine the wide, sunny and bare spaces of this gigantic approach filled with the many coloured, noisy retinues of the cardinal princes. There are garden parterres, levelled and square, only on the north and west of the façade that comprises the obtuse angle; these are at the same height as the first floor, and connected with it by bridges, which, judging by the drawing of the fortress, evidently work like drawbridges. We have met with garden bridges before, joining the pian nobile with a garden at the same height at the Palazzo Doria in Genoa: people liked the plan of going straight out from the main rooms on the same level, The parterres still show their old style and plantation, such as we are familiar with from the sixteenth century, the paths overarched with foliage cutting the garden crosswise, the fountain as centrepiece, and the beds edged with box and planted with fruit-trees: all this shows very little change from the Middle Ages.

Fine grottoes are at the end in the main axis of both bridges. Magnificent planes and cypresses beyond the balustrade with the caryatides have stood there, according to tradition, from the time the first design was made (Fig. 205). 

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


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


The western parterre cuts deeply into the hill, and the triangle left between the two is treated as a high terrace. Unfortunately nothing is left of the western garden except a narrow terrace above the grotto. The park on three sides of this garden has gone absolutely wild, and this is all the more regrettable because the view of the front garden with the house on the hill at the west side making one connected whole, is thereby completely wiped out and lost. Nowadays the charming little casino (Fig. 206) appears quite out of touch with the greater house on the hill, Like the Villa Pia, we may perhaps think of it as a retreat where the master could go with a few chosen friends to escape from the noise and pomp of a princely household, and like Pliny’s garden house by Laurentinum, “amores mei, re vera amores.”

Anyone might apply this title to the beautiful work of the Late Renaissance when he approaches the delightful secluded casino, where the ascent is now made through an avenue of firs, A broad stairway with shallow steps mounts between grottoes framed in rustica that are in the side walls (Fig. 207).

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A narrow bright stream runs down the middle, controlled and confined by a series of stones that form a sort of chain—the same idea as at Villa Lante. The water falls into a fine basin below, whic