The Landscape Guide

Hellbrunn Garden, Salzburg, Austria

Among those that were immediately affected by Italy, Hellbrunn, at Salzburg, stands supreme. In the years 1613—19 Marcus Sittich was bishop of Salzburg. He was a member of the Hohenem family, who because of their origin on the borders of Latin territory had a very close connection with Italy. Since the time of Pius IV., the family had continued to live in a similar fashion to “ nephews “ in Italy (where we have often found them as predecessors of the Borghesi) with the same delight in buildings and gardens as they showed in Germany. Marcus Sittich first completed the Mirabelischloss built by his predecessors (Fig. 374). 

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The ornamentation of the garden, the design of the parterre, belong to the French period, but the whole lay-out has preserved its Renaissance character. It is not only that any connection with the castle is entirely absent, and the chief garden separated from the sides by high walls that are only broken by narrow doors, but the separate beds are encircled by balustrades which interfere with the ensemble of the design. This whole scheme differs little from the town gardens we know so well at Augsburg, Nuremberg, and Vienna.

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The most original creation of Marcus Sittich is the charming little castle of Hellbrunn before the gates of Salzburg (Fig. 375). He started it as soon as his rule began, and finished the whole thing in fifteen months, Although the garden in some parts was changed into an English park, and in others was enlarged under French influence, it still preserves in a great many respects the character that Sittich gave it. In the castle itself grottoes were introduced on the ground floor, not only on the entrance side (i) but also on the garden side. By the garden below the terraces there is a great grotto construction; here we find the abundance of statues, water-plays, and automata, which we recognise as like those in Italian gardens, and which are still mostly intact. There is the rain grotto, the mirror grotto, and another with a dragon coming out of a hole in a rock, who drinks from a fountain and vanishes again. There are all sorts of birds singing, and actually the beloved "vault of ruins" is not wanting, with its stones threatening to fall.

In front of this garden façade extends the large, deeply-sunken star-pond (2), into which falls a cascade of three tiers, ending above in a semicircular theatre. The ibex, the Hohenem crest, is to be seen everywhere, and is a sure guide to the estates of Marcus Sittich. A long narrow canal passes out from this pond on both sides, beset with an inexhaustible supply of grottoes and little water-plays. Certain regions at the end of the canal hail from a later day, as for example the mechanical theatre, a costly toy with marionettes doing all sorts of things. The passion for grottoes is at its highest in this garden. An engraving by Menan shows a great number of small grotto-houses, which enliven the garden, sometimes open at the top and sometimes shut.

On the other side of the walk of grottoes there stood near the house a small summer pavilion, which was orientated as centre piece with four corner turrets and a tank in the shape of a trefoil. People were beginning to imitate Italian casinos by setting up unusual summer-houses in their German gardens. We find them still more varied in the seats of princes of Middle Germany, and it looks as though a peculiar style of central erection came about with this feature much emphasized. The chief parterre at Hellbrunn was a water parterre: there were four basins on small lawns, the middle one having a summer-house on a round hill which was approached by thirty steps. On the eastern façade of the house there was another water site (3), which, unlike the chief garden, is still for the most part preserved (Fig. 376). 

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It has three basins, one behind the other, the middle one oval, and the two others square; these are connected by narrow canals, and with each is a fountain group with a stone table and ten stone seats, In the middle water poured forth to fill the drinking-glasses; but woe betide those who sat down on the seats. They were driven off by water spurting out, and if they tried to escape back to the steps that led to the semicircular theatre at the grotto, or to the pretty balustraded galleries on the side, they were met by a fresh shower of rain from many little pipes. From pedestals Democritus and Heracleitus—allegorical figures of tragedy and comedy—looked down upon this merry play; while above was Rome, placed in the broken gable of the semicircle, which was adorned with blue stones and shells, above the arms of Marcus Sittich. On the right near this part there was similarly a small grotto-house, which contained Orpheus and a sleeping Eurydice and all sorts of animals; near by was a charming little menagerie.

The archbishop made something else that was very remarkable at that time, in his park up on the Waidberg, and named it Hohenems. He built a little casino, called the Castle of the Month, because it was said that, to gratify the wish of a Bavarian prince who was passing through, he surprised him on his way back, after one month, with the place quite finished. Nothing is preserved of the garden, but at the back of the small castle there is a very interesting wide road. From an opening we walk down into an antique theatre cut in the living rock, with seats all round and entrances and exits. Perhaps a stage was also set up for the occasion, Marcus Sittich had pastoral plays and operas performed, as for example on 31 October, 1617, before the retinue of a prince who was on the return journey after a hunting expedition to Berchstoldsgaden.

This theatre is important, not only because of its attempt to revive Palladio’s great effort to have an antique theatre at Vicenza, but also because of its position in a lonely park, set in the cleft of a rock, all of which creates a feeling that we often find in the gardens of the later eighteenth century. Also it is the first permanent theatre in the open air about which we have any information; for the use of natural stages, with hedges as side scenes, certainly came in quite a hundred years later. We have already noticed, in France and Spain, how closely related in Renaissance days were the feelings for pleasure, games, and piety; and Marcus Sittich was wont to lead his guests from the theatre in the rock—through the deer-park, where white stags were kept—for a few minutes into his hermitage. He entertained them in the little castle of Belvedere, in the room with the pictures, from whose windows they looked over the Salzach towards Hallein, and led them to the eight hermits’ cells which he had put there with six small chapels. In one of these lived a French brother, called Antonius the Fifth, whose tombstone at the parish church of Anif hard by thus told of his life:

Nicholas Mudet was my name,
From Lyon city first I came.
With fear of God, by lonely ways,
At Hellenbrunn I spent my days.
Often at Rome the time I passed,
But here I found my grave at last.
The garden owed this abundance of ideas, and its fanciful arrangement, to the owner’s connection with Italy.