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21 January 2019Classic Ground: Renaissance Gardens of Italy
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Classic Ground: Renaissance Gardens of Italy Steven Desmond Monday 21 January 2019

In 1527 the Sack of Rome took place, a traumatic event which brought the Italian Renaissance to a crunching halt and caused a general exodus of patrons and artists into the relative safety of the surrounding countryside. Here they found themselves among forested volcanic hills watered by springs, in settings celebrated in antiquity by the Romans and Etruscans.

Soon these disparate forces made contact, and began the making of country estates along Virgilian lines, focused on the idea of the villa and its surrounding garden. The gardens themselves made geometric order out of the sloping woodland, terracing the ground into descending courtyards populated by statues, and channelling the natural watercourses into pools, fountains, cascades and refreshing water-jets. The rational pattern of the parterre formed a backdrop for flower and fruit gardens where cardinals and dukes could converse, appraise and receive.


Surprising numbers of these sites survive in good order today, in rich variety. Collectively they form a group of gardens which mark the change from mediaeval ideas to the unmistakable beginning of modern European garden history. The Villa Lante at Bagnaia, the Palazzo Farnese at Caprarola, the Sacro Bosco at Bomarzo and the Villa d’Este at Tivoli are among the illustrious gardens viewed and brought alive in this richly illustrated lecture.