Gardens and horticulture have been a central part of human civilisation, any changes in our gardens reflect changes in the wider society and vice versa. These changes were influenced by key factors such as politics, religion, wealth, status, travel, conflict, invention and advancements in science. Ideas and thoughts about garden designs were developed by intellectuals, philosophers and the elite who spent time writing and discussing these matters with their peers. This course explores the origins of the Italian Renaissance Garden, its key features, elements and underlying principles as well as their far-reaching legacy of its Victorian, early 20th century revival.
Following the rediscovery of horticultural texts from writers such as Pliny, Cicero and Petrarch as well as the excavation of ancient sites like Hadrian’s villa, the inward-looking Medieval stance of the hortus conclusus opened up to embrace the renaissance garden which exploited open hillside positions looking out both physically and intellectually.
In this ‘rebirth’ or Renaissance the garden became an art form in its own right, a place for social and political posturing. Spurred on by their papal, ducal or political ambitions, these gardens were created by popes, cardinals, princes, and the nobility who appropriated mythical gods and heroes as representatives of themselves. Gardens were composed and read as poems. Hercules and Venus were popular figures who frequently featured in the sophisticated allegorical programmes promoted within the gardens. We will look at examples of how and why powerful patrons such as the Medici, their designers and artists were inspired by the art, literature and theories of antiquity to create these magnificent gardens between the 15th and 17th centuries. Examples will include Villa Medici at Fiesole, Villa Castello, Villa Pratolino, Villa d’Este and Villa Lante which will enable the students to appreciate how the Italian renaissance garden evolved as we place the gardens in their social and cultural context.