The Landscape Guide

Smaller renaissance gardens in Germany

In the rest of Germany also the intent eagerness of the many smaller princes was aroused, and everyone jealously observed the progress of his neighbour. On the other hand, there was a good feeling that prompted them to share all new discoveries. The book of travel by a gentleman of Augsburg called Philip Hainhofer, written between 1611 and 1613, gives us an amusing view of this exchange, which was of course concerned first and foremost with special botanical wonders. Hainhofer was an art-dealer at court, perhaps one of the earliest of his kind, a man of great learning, fine taste, and intelligent eye, all of which helped him to that knowledge of men which he needed: he was vain enough and snobbish enough to let princes feel that he enjoyed their condescension and confidence; and clever and unconscientious enough to help himself with time-serving, if it was to his own advantage. He became so indispensable to princes that they also employed him on their lesser diplomatic errands, but he never abandoned his chief aim of being an art agent. Into chambers of art and houses of pleasure he was constantly seeking an entrance, and also into their gardens, so that we owe many happy descriptions to him.

He seems to have cemented his earliest alliance with the Pomeranian Duke Philip II., who desired to build a pleasure-castle, in 1611. For this he acquired duplicates of Hainhofer’s  plants and his drawings and sketches of other German castles. The old Duke William of Bavaria, who devoted most of his leisure to art after he abdicated in favour of his son Maximilian, wanted to show his gratitude to the Pomeranian lord, and commissioned Hainhofer, during a visit to Augsburg, to make a journey to Eichstätt, whither all botanical interest was directed. The learned, high-minded, though frail and delicate Johann Conrad von Gemmingen, a prince of the Church, had built a fine castle, Willibaidsburg, close to the bishop’s see, Eichstätt, and had laid out the gardens afresh. Hainhofer enumerates eight different ones, “which are variously adorned in area, in divisions, in order of flowers—and wonderful with their roses, lilies, and other plants.” They are all, as at Ambras, at the foot of the hill, with the castle at the top, which according to his account has a moat round it. The bishop was at that time very busy with the rebuilding of the castle, and wanted to “ make the garden turn the other way and (going down the hill) unite together castle and mountain.” Whether the plan was carried out is doubtful, for the bishop died in 1612, and in 1634 the Swedes razed the castle to the ground. The prelate, however, had made a monumental work for his contemporaries and one of lasting renown for a later world. He had all his plants drawn and then engraved in copper. Week by week a messenger on horseback with a box of fresh flowers was sent to Nuremberg, where the chemist Basilius Beseler made drawings of them and arranged them according to their time of flowering. This work was valued at 3000 florins, and first came out after the bishop’s death in 1613 under the title of Hortus Eychstedtensis. All the princes added flower pictures of the same kind, though not in such a costly get-up as this, and made exchanges by way of polite greetings.

Soon after Hainhofer’s journey to Eichstätt had been accomplished to the satisfaction of his patron, he went to Munich to report to Duke William. Munich was already, under the rule of the duke’s father, Albert V., embarked upon its first great period of building; and he had at his residence, on the east, the other side of the city trenches, enlarged the pleasure-garden and laid it out in the Italian style. In this garden, called “ Rosengart,” at the fête held in honour of Charles V., the emperor had led the dance with the duke’s consort. Hainhofer, who was always well received, obtained admission, and saw this garden, whose days were numbered, and he describes a very pretty pergola, and a pleasure- house that was handsomely painted, and from the back looked into a deer-park. But far more important in his opinion were the two gardens which William laid out during his residence in the new part on the south.

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 The smaller one of these, called the “Pretty” (Fig. 377), is now only known under the name of the grotto court, but it is the most attractive feature of the residence. The grotto still remains, fantastically made of stalactites, shells, and many half-precious stones; it contains a golden Mercury reminiscent of Giovanni da Bologna, and other fountain figures. The painting of the walls is for the most part restored. In the garden, scarcely thirty by twenty metres in size, only the beautiful middle fountain, a copy of Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus, which was intended as a fountain figure, has been preserved. “ The water runs out from head and neck, like blood from human veins and arteries,” says Hainhofer. But in his time “ the garden was divided into four compartments, the plots with the beds marked out in white marble, in each division a stone trough with running water for irrigating the plots.” The walls were adorned with statues, and in front of the grotto was a mosaic of blue stone worked in the Italian manner. This pretty scene was viewed from a balcony with a gilded parapet.

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Turning from this look-out to the opposite side, one saw the other garden (Fig. 378), which had for chief feature an open room with inside decorations of fountains and statues. The garden itself was a long oblong, with an open loggia on one side, and on the other a trellis covered with greenery; six of the divisions are bounded by hedges, and two of them by white stone. Small trees stand at the corners, and inside it are “all sorts of pretty flowers.” But the chief piece is a great tank at the end of the garden with a fountain and many figures, Neptune being the most imposing one; and opposite is a grotto bearing a life-size Bavaria at the top, which now ornaments the rotunda in the chief garden. Finally, there is a round temple, with a Pegasus. There is a surprising number of fountains for a garden that is not large. In this ornamentation Hainhofer forgets his interest in botany.

Duke William has here made a masterpiece of a Residence garden, a place to live in the open, where artistic ornament was of chief moment. But at that time he was not living at the Residence, which his reigning son improved very finely, but had his own private place, now Maxburg, where Hainhofer certainly found no garden, but tells of a hermitage instead. This shows that places of the sort were not only set up in remote parks as at Gaillon and Hellbrunn, but also in the middle of the town, at a Residence.  “All this grotto is made in one piece, just as we see them copied in paintings and copper-plates of fathers and hermits.” So says the learned Hainhofer. It is made out of the actual rock with cells cut in it, and there are firs and wild trees all about it, and water gushes out of the rock, making a stream and a little pond; therein, made of lead, are snakes, lizards, toads, crabs, etc, In this grotto everything is woven of bass, straw, and sticks, and the altar is made of rock. In the little room in the winter there is only a poor oven, and it is all dark, melancholy, gloomy, and even frightening. On the wall St. Francis in the Wilderness is painted, and the ceiling is thatched with straw and sticks as huts are. On the wall there is a tree with a stopper in it; and when you take out the stopper you see through the tree out to the tower in the city, and its clock, and thus know what hour has struck; and this is the peculiarity of the grotto. It also has a little loggia above the water, and in it a long plank on trestles, and there are twelve low stools of straw and thatch, made for the use of the princes . . . when they take a meal with the Carthusians in the grotto. There are two of them here, a priest and a lay brother. I asked the priest if the time seemed long and he said ‘ No,’ for he was always meditating as to ‘ quid Deus fecerit pro se, quid Deus faciat in se, quid Deus facturus sit de se.' “ This was quite in accordance with William’s way of thinking, who always went about in coarse clothing like a monk, and dressed all his servants in black; he had private paths made from his castle to the Jesuits and the Capuchins, although his whole time and inclination were devoted to the art and pride of this world.

But the main garden of the Residence was not even started at the time of Hainhofer’s first visit, for Maximilian laid it out soon after in the north at the other side of the town trenches, as the last grand work of his otherwise completed Residence, after the old pleasure-garden had fallen a victim, as we have related, to the extension buildings. This garden was absorbed into town fortifications at the time of the Thirty Years’ War, but at the outset of this fatal epoch it was already finished. Maximilian had made a journey to Italy as heir to the throne, and there his taste for art was much enlightened, which made a great difference to the internal ornament of his Residence. 

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The garden (Fig. 379) certainly has a fine Italian casino with a flat balustraded roof and an open hall as chief feature, but in its ensemble it shows far more leaning towards French examples. In front of the casino there are two ponds separated with a balustraded path down the middle, where there are fountains. Half-way down this middle walk, which widens out into a rotunda, a green pavilion was erected later, But from the beginning the large centre pavilion, which connects the separate parts of the garden, appears to have been ornamented with the “Bavaria” from the Residence garden. This great place is higher up than the ponds, and leading to it is an inclined slope in six divisions. There are special gates covered with greenery leading into all the four parts of the garden. The plantation shown in the picture belongs to a later date, to the end of the seventeenth century, and the engraving by Merlan has preserved the far simpler arrangement of beds.

Maximilian's brother Albert also practised a fine style of gardening; his handsome place was at the so-called Sailor’s Gate, on the far side of the town prison. There Albert used to go with his friend and protégé, the Jesuit Jacob Balde, who was the last and best of the neo-Latin poets, and sang the praises of his patron in Horatian verse. These have passed into the German language in Herder’s translation. Balde speaks of hanging gardens; leaning over the columns he gazes with his royal friend into the depth of the prison, which was laid out as a garden in times of peace. At the entrance stood the charming figure of a boy in stone, with a wonderful song of praise upon it, and the words: "Did Flora give thee life, when like a mother she had ordered all this garden?" 

The  poet knows not how he can praise enough the exuberance of the flowers in this starry meadow, as he calls it. This was in the middle of the Thirty Years’ War, which hindered building activities even in Bavaria. But at any rate the gardens were kept up as protection in the precincts of the town until a more peaceful time should arrive. The period before the war when people were interested produced other charming works in Bavaria, and not only at Munich. The castle of Haimhausen (Fig. 380) shows a feeling for style that is almost Italian in its fine array of terraces with a grotto, and an approach by steps. 

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At the end of the garden the kitchen court is decorated with a fine fountain, flanked by two tall trees, in which are fixed rooms and seats in different tiers: this is a custom inherited in the Middle Ages from antiquity, but in Germany carried particularly far.

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In rivalry with the princes at Munich, Frederick of Würtemberg made a new castle at Stuttgart (Fig. 381). Here too there is no immediate connection between the noble residence and the flower-garden, for they are separated by a wide walk, The garden has certainly a summer-house as architectural centre, but this idea is overmastered by the northern spirit which prevails throughout. This fine pleasure-house, with its wonderful mixture of Gothic and Renaissance forms, has artistic charm on a large scale: the wide, airy balcony that runs round the place with corner turrets and lofty gable is a capital room for a cheerful party, and here we might perhaps find an immediate link between house and garden; but one must needs compare with it the severe axial lay-out of those gardens at Munich that really feel French influence. There appear in these any number of distinct ideas, and every part is treated individually, with no reference to its neighbours. The chief feature, the large flower-garden, certainly is at the side of the house, but is not connected with it: thus the middle division, a circular hill with steps, corresponds to the style of the house because the pavilion at the top is treated as a little castle. Among the other parts of the garden, playgrounds and tree-gardens, a special ornament is the orangery, one of the oldest and most famous in Germany.