Italian Renaissance garden
The Italian Renaissance garden was a new style of garden which emerged in the late 15th century at villas in Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 and Florence
Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany and of the province of Florence. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with approximately 370,000 inhabitants, expanding to over 1.5 million in the metropolitan area....

, inspired by classical ideals of order and beauty, and intended for the pleasure of the view of the garden and the landscape beyond, for contemplation, and for the enjoyment of the sights, sounds and smells of the garden itself.

In the late Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

, the gardens became larger, grander and more symmetrical, and were filled with fountains, statues, grotto
A grotto is any type of natural or artificial cave that is associated with modern, historic or prehistoric use by humans. When it is not an artificial garden feature, a grotto is often a small cave near water and often flooded or liable to flood at high tide...

es, water organ
Water organ
The water organ or hydraulic organ is a type of pipe organ blown by air, where the power source pushing the air is derived by water from a natural source or by a manual pump...

s and other features designed to delight their owners and amuse and impress visitors. The style was imitated throughout Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, influencing the gardens of the French Renaissance
Gardens of the French Renaissance
The Gardens of the French Renaissance is a garden style largely inspired by the Italian Renaissance garden, particularly the gardens of Florence and Rome. King Charles VIII and his nobles brought the style back to France after their campaign in Italy in 1495...

 and the English garden
English garden
The English garden, also called English landscape park , is a style of Landscape garden which emerged in England in the early 18th century, and spread across Europe, replacing the more formal, symmetrical Garden à la française of the 17th century as the principal gardening style of Europe. The...


The Classical Influence the Italian Renaissance garden

Prior to the Italian Renaissance
Italian Renaissance
The Italian Renaissance began the opening phase of the Renaissance, a period of great cultural change and achievement in Europe that spanned the period from the end of the 13th century to about 1600, marking the transition between Medieval and Early Modern Europe...

, Italian Medieval gardens were enclosed by walls, and were devoted to growing vegetables, fruits and medicinal herbs, or, in the case of monastery gardens, for silent meditation and prayer. The Italian Renaissance garden broke down the wall between the garden, the house, and the landscape outside.

The Italian Renaissance garden, like Renaissance art and architecture
Renaissance architecture
Renaissance architecture is the architecture of the period between the early 15th and early 17th centuries in different regions of Europe, demonstrating a conscious revival and development of certain elements of ancient Greek and Roman thought and material culture. Stylistically, Renaissance...

, emerged from the rediscovery by Renaissance scholars of classical Roman models. They were inspired by the descriptions of ancient Roman gardens
Roman gardens
Roman gardens and ornamental horticulture became highly developed during the history of Roman civilization. The Gardens of Lucullus on the Pincian Hill at the edge of Rome introduced the Persian garden to Europe, around 60 BC...

 given by Ovid
Publius Ovidius Naso , known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who is best known as the author of the three major collections of erotic poetry: Heroides, Amores, and Ars Amatoria...

 in his Metamorphoses; by the letters of Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger
Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo , better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome. Pliny's uncle, Pliny the Elder, helped raise and educate him...

, by Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

's Naturalis Historia; and in Rerum Rusticanum by Varro
Marcus Terentius Varro
Marcus Terentius Varro was an ancient Roman scholar and writer. He is sometimes called Varro Reatinus to distinguish him from his younger contemporary Varro Atacinus.-Biography:...

, all of which gave detailed and lyrical description of the gardens of Roman villa
Roman villa
A Roman villa is a villa that was built or lived in during the Roman republic and the Roman Empire. A villa was originally a Roman country house built for the upper class...


Pliny the Younger described his life at his villa at Laurentum: " ...a good life and a genuine one, which is happy and honourable, more rewarding than any "business" can be. You should take the first opportunity to leave the din, the futile bustle and useless occupations of the city and devote yourself to literature or to leisure." The purpose of a garden, according to Pliny, was "otium," which could be translated as seclusion, serenity, or relaxation, which was the opposite of the idea of "negotium" that often classified busy urban life. A garden was a place to think, relax, and escape.

Pliny described shaded paths bordered with hedges, ornamental parterre
A parterre is a formal garden construction on a level surface consisting of planting beds, edged in stone or tightly clipped hedging, and gravel paths arranged to form a pleasing, usually symmetrical pattern. Parterres need not have any flowers at all...

s, fountains, and trees and bushes trimmed to geometric or fantastic shapes; all features which would become part of the future Renaissance garden.

Alberti and the Principles of the Renaissance Garden

The first Renaissance text to include garden design was De Re Aedificatoria
De Re Aedificatoria
De re aedificatoria is a classic architectural treatise written by Leon Battista Alberti between 1443 and 1452. Although largely dependent on Vitruvius' De architectura, it was the first theoretical book on the subject written in the Italian Renaissance and in 1485 became the first printed book on...

('The Ten Books of Architecture'), by Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472). He drew upon the architectural principles of Vitruvius
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was a Roman writer, architect and engineer, active in the 1st century BC. He is best known as the author of the multi-volume work De Architectura ....

, and used quotations from Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

 and Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger
Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, born Gaius Caecilius or Gaius Caecilius Cilo , better known as Pliny the Younger, was a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome. Pliny's uncle, Pliny the Elder, helped raise and educate him...

 to describe what a garden should look like and how it should be used. He argued that a villa should both be looked at and a place to look from; that the house should be placed above the garden, where it could be seen and the owner could look down into the garden.

Alberti wrote: "The construction will give pleasure to the visitor if, when they leave the city, they see the villa in all its charm, as if to seduce and welcome the new arrivals. Toward this end, I would place it on a slightly elevated place. I would also have the road climb so gently that it fools those who take it to the point that they do not realize how high they have climbed until they discover the countryside below."Alberti, Leon Battista. Édifices destinés aux catégories particulières de citoyens, in L'art d'édifier, translated from the Latin by Pierre Caye and Françoise Choay, Book I, Paris, 2004: 429.

Within the garden, Alberti wrote: "...You should place portico
A portico is a porch leading to the entrance of a building, or extended as a colonnade, with a roof structure over a walkway, supported by columns or enclosed by walls...

s for giving shade, planters where vines can climb, placed on marble columns; vases and amusing statues, provided they are not obscene. You should also have rare plants.... Trees should be aligned and arranged evenly, each tree aligned with its neighbours."

The Literary Influence on the Italian Renaissance Garden

A popular romance, The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili , called in English Poliphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream, is a romance said to be by Francesco Colonna and a famous example of early printing...

(Poliphilo's Strife of Love in a Dream), published in 1499 in Venice
Venice is a city in northern Italy which is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. It is the capital of the Veneto region...

 by the monk Francesco Colonna
Francesco Colonna
Francesco Colonna was an Italian Dominican priest and monk who was credited with the authorship of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili by an acrostic in the text.He lived in Venice, and preached at St. Mark's Cathedral...

, also had an important influence on the gardens of the Renaissance. It described the voyage and adventures of a traveller, Poliphile, through fantastic landscapes, looking for his love, Polia. The scenes described in the book and the accompanying woodcut
Woodcut—occasionally known as xylography—is a relief printing artistic technique in printmaking in which an image is carved into the surface of a block of wood, with the printing parts remaining level with the surface while the non-printing parts are removed, typically with gouges...

 illustrations influenced many Renaissance gardens; they included a lake-island (as at the Boboli Gardens
Boboli Gardens
The Boboli Gardens are a park in Florence, Italy, that is home to a collection of sculptures dating from the 16th through the 18th centuries, with some Roman antiquities.-History and layout:...

), giants emerging from the earth (as at Villa di Pratolino
Villa di Pratolino
The Villa di Pratolino was a Renaissance patrician villa in Vaglia, Tuscany, Italy. It was mostly demolished in 1820: its remains are now part of Villa Demidoff, 12 km north of Florence, reached from the main road to Bologna.-History:...

), the labyrinth
In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos...

, and the fountain of Venus
Venus (mythology)
Venus is a Roman goddess principally associated with love, beauty, sex,sexual seduction and fertility, who played a key role in many Roman religious festivals and myths...

 (as at Villa di Castello
Villa di Castello
The Villa di Castello is one of the Medici villas near Florence, Tuscany, central Italy. Its ideal design appears in a lunette painted by Giusto Utens in 1599. The property was purchased by Lorenzo de'Medici in 1477 on the site of an existing building which he had rebuilt...

) where Poliphile and Polia were reconciled.

Power and Magnificence - the political symbolism of the Renaissance garden

While the early Italian Renaissance gardens were designed for contemplation and pleasure with tunnels of greenery, trees for shade, an enclosed giardino segreto (secret garden) and fields for games and amusements, the Medici, the ruling dynasty of Florence, used gardens to demonstrate their own power and magnificence. "During the first half of the sixteenth century, magnificence came to be perceived as a princely virtue, and all over the Italian peninsula architects, sculptors, painters, poets, historians and humanist scholars were commissioned to concoct a magnificent image for their powerful patrons." The central fountain at Villa di Castello featured a statue of Hercules
Hercules is the Roman name for Greek demigod Heracles, son of Zeus , and the mortal Alcmene...

, symbolizing Cosimo de Medici, the ruler of Florence, and the fish-tailed goat that was an emblem of the Medicis; the garden represented the power, wisdom, order, beauty and glory that the Medici had brought to Florence.

Glossary of the Italian Renaissance Garden

  • fontaniere. The fountain-maker, a hydraulic engineer who designed the water system and fountains.
  • giochi d'acqua. water tricks. Concealed fountains which drenched unsuspecting visitors.
  • Bosco Sacro. Sacred wood. A grove of trees inspired by the groves where pagans would worship. In Renaissance and especially mannerist
    Mannerism is a period of European art that emerged from the later years of the Italian High Renaissance around 1520. It lasted until about 1580 in Italy, when a more Baroque style began to replace it, but Northern Mannerism continued into the early 17th century throughout much of Europe...

     gardens, this section was filled with allegorical statues of animals, giants and fantastic creatures.
  • Giardino Segreto. The Secret Garden. An enclosed private garden within the garden, inspired by the cloisters of Medieval monasteries. A place for reading, writing or quiet conversations.
  • Semplici. "Simples," or medicinal plants and herbs.

The Medici Villa at Fiesole (1455-1461)

The oldest existing Italian Renaissance garden is at the Villa Medici in Fiesole
Villa Medici in Fiesole
The Villa Medici is a patrician villa in Fiesole, Tuscany, Italy, the fourth oldest of the villas built by the Medici family. It was built between 1451 and 1457.-External links:*...

, north of Florence. It was created sometime between 1455 and 1461 by Giovanni de' Medici (1421–1463) the son of Cosimo de' Medici
Cosimo de' Medici
Còsimo di Giovanni degli Mèdici was the first of the Medici political dynasty, de facto rulers of Florence during much of the Italian Renaissance; also known as "Cosimo 'the Elder'" and "Cosimo Pater Patriae" .-Biography:Born in Florence, Cosimo inherited both his wealth and his expertise in...

, the founder of the Medici dynasty. Unlike other Medici family villas
Medici villas
The Medici villas are a series of rural building complexes near Florence which were owned by members of the Medici family between the 15th century and the 17th century. The villas served several functions: they were the country palaces of the Medici, scattered over the territory that they ruled,...

 that were located on flat farmland, this villa was located on a rocky hillside with a view over Florence.

The Villa Medici followed Alberti's precepts that a villa should have a view 'that overlooks the city, the owner's land, the sea or a great plain, and familiar hills and mountains,' and that the foreground have 'the delicacy of gardens.' The garden has two large terraces, one at the ground floor level and the other at the level of the first floor. From the reception rooms on the first floor, guests could go out to the loggia
Loggia is the name given to an architectural feature, originally of Minoan design. They are often a gallery or corridor at ground level, sometimes higher, on the facade of a building and open to the air on one side, where it is supported by columns or pierced openings in the wall...

 and from there to the garden so the loggia was a transition space connecting the interior with the exterior. Unlike later gardens, the Villa Medici did not have a grand staircase or other feature to link the two levels.

The garden was inherited by his nephew, Lorenzo de' Medici
Lorenzo de' Medici
Lorenzo de' Medici was an Italian statesman and de facto ruler of the Florentine Republic during the Italian Renaissance. Known as Lorenzo the Magnificent by contemporary Florentines, he was a diplomat, politician and patron of scholars, artists and poets...

, who made it a meeting place for poets, artists, writers and philosophers. In 1479, the poet Angelo Poliziano
Angelo Ambrogini, commonly known by his nickname, anglicized as Politian, Italian Poliziano, Latin Politianus was an Italian Renaissance classical scholar and poet, one of the revivers of Humanist Latin...

, tutor to the Medici children, described the garden in a letter: "..Seated between the sloping sides of the mountains we have here water in abundance and being constantly refreshed with moderate winds find little inconvenience from the glare of the sun. As you approach the house it seems embosomed in the wood, but when you reach it you find it commands a full prospect of the city."

The Palazzo Piccolomini at Pienza, Tuscany, (1459)

The Palazzo Piccolomini at Pienza
Pienza, a town and comune in the province of Siena, in the Val d'Orcia in Tuscany , between the towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino, is the "touchstone of Renaissance urbanism."...

, was built by Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who was Pope from 1458 to 1464, under the name of Pius II
Pope Pius II
Pope Pius II, born Enea Silvio Piccolomini was Pope from August 19, 1458 until his death in 1464. Pius II was born at Corsignano in the Sienese territory of a noble but decayed family...

. He was a scholar of Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 and wrote extensively on education, astronomy and social culture. In 1459, he constructed a palace for himself and his Cardinals and court in his small native town of Pienza. Like the Villa Medici, a major feature of the house was the commanding view to be had from the loggia over the valley, the Val d'Orcia, to the slopes of Mount Amiata. Closer to the house, there were terraces with geometric flowerbeds surrounding fountains and ornamented with bushes trimmed into cones and spheres similar to the garden of Pliny described in Alberti's De Re Aedificatoria. The garden was designed to open to the town, the palace and the view.

The Cortile del Belvedere in the Vatican Palace, Rome, (1504-1513)

In 1504 Pope Julius II
Pope Julius II
Pope Julius II , nicknamed "The Fearsome Pope" and "The Warrior Pope" , born Giuliano della Rovere, was Pope from 1503 to 1513...

 commissioned the architect Donato Bramante
Donato Bramante
Donato Bramante was an Italian architect, who introduced the Early Renaissance style to Milan and the High Renaissance style to Rome, where his most famous design was St...

 to recreate a classical Roman pleasure garden in the space between the old papal Vatican
Apostolic Palace
The Apostolic Palace is the official residence of the Pope, which is located in Vatican City. It is also known as the Sacred Palace, the Papal Palace and the Palace of the Vatican...

 palace in Rome and the nearby Villa Belvedere. His model was the ancient sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina
Palestrina is an ancient city and comune with a population of about 18,000, in Lazio, c. 35 km east of Rome...

 or ancient Praeneste, and he used the classical ideals of proportion, symmetry and perspective in his design. He created a central axis to link the two buildings, and a series of terraces connected by double ramps, modelled after those at Palestrina. The terraces were divided into squares and rectangles by paths and flowerbeds, and served as an outdoor setting for Pope Julius's extraordinary collection of classical sculpture, which included the famous Laocoön
Laocoön the son of Acoetes is a figure in Greek and Roman mythology.-History:Laocoön is a Trojan priest of Poseidon , whose rules he had defied, either by marrying and having sons, or by having committed an impiety by making love with his wife in the presence of a cult image in a sanctuary...

 and the Apollo Belvedere
Apollo Belvedere
The Apollo Belvedere or Apollo of the Belvedere—also called the Pythian Apollo— is a celebrated marble sculpture from Classical Antiquity. It was rediscovered in central Italy in the late 15th century, during the Renaissance...

. The heart of the garden was a courtyard surrounded by a three-tiered loggia, which served as a theater for entertainments. A central exedra
In architecture, an exedra is a semicircular recess or plinth, often crowned by a semi-dome, which is sometimes set into a building's facade. The original Greek sense was applied to a room that opened onto a stoa, ringed with curved high-backed stone benches, a suitable place for a philosophical...

 formed the dramatic conclusion of the long perspective up the courtyard, ramps and terraces.

The Venetian Ambassador described the Cortile del Belvedere
Cortile del Belvedere
The Cortile del Belvedere, the Belvedere courtyard, designed by Donato Bramante from 1506 onwards, was a major architectural work of the High Renaissance at the Vatican Palace in Rome; its concept and details reverberating in courtyard design, formalized piazzas and garden plans throughout Western...

 in 1523: "One enters a very beautiful garden, of which half is filled with growing grass and bays and mulberries and cypresses, while the other half is paved with squares of bricks laid upright, and in every square a beautiful orange tree grows out of the pavement, of which there are a great many, arranged in perfect order....On one side of the garden is a most beautiful loggia, at one end of which is a lovely fountain that irrigates the orange trees and the rest of the garden by a little canal in the center of the loggia."

Unfortunately the construction of the Vatican Library
Vatican Library
The Vatican Library is the library of the Holy See, currently located in Vatican City. It is one of the oldest libraries in the world and contains one of the most significant collections of historical texts. Formally established in 1475, though in fact much older, it has 75,000 codices from...

 in the late 16th century across the centre of the cortile means that Bramante's design is now obscured but his ideas of proportion, symmetry and dramatic perspectives were used in many of the great gardens of the Italian Renaissance.

The Villa Madama, Rome,(1516)

The Villa Madama
Villa Madama
Villa Madama is situated half way up the slope of Monte Mario Which faces directly north-east and because the hill is curved the part which looks towards Rome faces south and the opposite faces north-west...

, situated on the slopes of Monte Mario
Monte Mario
-External links :* * *...

 and overlooking Rome, was begun by Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X , born Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, was the Pope from 1513 to his death in 1521. He was the last non-priest to be elected Pope. He is known for granting indulgences for those who donated to reconstruct St. Peter's Basilica and his challenging of Martin Luther's 95 Theses...

 and continued by Cardinal Giulio de' Medici
Pope Clement VII
Clement VII , born Giulio di Giuliano de' Medici, was a cardinal from 1513 to 1523 and was Pope from 1523 to 1534.-Early life:...

 (1478–1534). In 1516 Leo X gave the commission to Raphael
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino , better known simply as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form and ease of composition and for its visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur...

 who was at that time the most famous artist in Rome. Using the ancient text of De Architectura by Vitruvius and the writings of Pliny the Younger, Raphael imagined his own version of an ideal classical villa and garden. His villa had a great circular courtyard, and was divided into a winter apartment and a summer apartment. Passages led from the courtyard to the great loggia from which views could be gained of the garden and Rome. A round tower on the east side was intended as garden room in winter, warmed by the sun coming through glazed windows. The villa overlooked three terraces, one a square, one a circle, and one an oval. The top terrace was to be planted in chestnut trees and firs while the lower terrace was intended for plant beds.

Work on the Villa Madama stopped in 1520 after the death of Raphael but was then continued by other artists until 1534. They finished one-half of the villa including half of the circular courtyard, and the northwest loggia that was decorated with grotesque
The word grotesque comes from the same Latin root as "Grotto", meaning a small cave or hollow. The original meaning was restricted to an extravagant style of Ancient Roman decorative art rediscovered and then copied in Rome at the end of the 15th century...

Fresco is any of several related mural painting types, executed on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Greek word affresca which derives from the Latin word for "fresh". Frescoes first developed in the ancient world and continued to be popular through the Renaissance...

es by Giulio Romano
Giulio Romano
Giulio Romano was an Italian painter and architect. A pupil of Raphael, his stylistic deviations from high Renaissance classicism help define the 16th-century style known as Mannerism...

 and stucco
Stucco or render is a material made of an aggregate, a binder, and water. Stucco is applied wet and hardens to a very dense solid. It is used as decorative coating for walls and ceilings and as a sculptural and artistic material in architecture...

 by Giovanni da Udine
Giovanni da Udine
Giovanni Nanni, also Giovanni de' Ricamatori, better known as Giovanni da Udine , was an Italian painter and architect born in Udine....

. Fine surviving features include a fountain of the head of an elephant by Giovanni da Udine and two gigantic stucco figures by Baccio Bandinelli
Bartolommeo Bandinelli
Bartolommeo Bandinelli, actually Bartolommeo Brandini , was a Renaissance Italian sculptor, draughtsman and painter.-Biography:...

 at the entrance of the giardino segreto, the secret garden. The villa is now a state guest house for the Government of Italy.

Gardens of the High Renaissance

The middle of the 16th century saw the construction by the Medicis and other wealthy families and individuals, of a series of magnificent gardens that followed the principles of Alberti and Bramante; they were usually sited on a hilltop or slopes of a mountain; had a series of symmetrical terraces, one above the other, along a central axis; the house looked over the garden and landscape beyond and it could itself be seen from the bottom of the garden. Developments in hydrology meant that the gardens were equipped with increasingly elaborate and majestic cascades and fountains, and statues which recalled the grandeur of Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....


Villa di Castello, Tuscany, (1538)

Villa di Castello
Villa di Castello
The Villa di Castello is one of the Medici villas near Florence, Tuscany, central Italy. Its ideal design appears in a lunette painted by Giusto Utens in 1599. The property was purchased by Lorenzo de'Medici in 1477 on the site of an existing building which he had rebuilt...

 was the project of Cosimo I de' Medici
Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany
Cosimo I de' Medici was Duke of Florence from 1537 to 1574, reigning as the first Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1569.-Biography:...

, first Duke of Tuscany, begun when he was only seventeen. It was designed by Niccolò Tribolo
Niccolò Tribolo
Niccolò di Raffaello di Niccolò dei Pericoli, called "Il Tribolo" was an Italian Mannerist artist in the service of Cosimo I de' Medici in his natal city of Florence.-Life:...

 who designed two other gardens: the Giardino dei Semplici
Orto Botanico di Firenze
The Orto Botanico di Firenze , also known as the Giardino dei Semplici, the "Garden of simples", is a botanical garden maintained by the University of Florence. It is located at Via Micheli, 3, Florence, Italy, and open weekday mornings...

 (1545) and the Boboli Gardens (1550) for Cosimo.

The garden was laid out on a gentle slope between the villa and the hill of Monte Morello
Monte Morello
Monte Morello is the highest mountain in the Florentine valley, Italy. It is located to the north-west of Florence and it spreads across the borders of the municipalities of Florence, Vaglia, Sesto Fiorentino and Calenzano....

. Tribolo first built a wall across the slope, dividing it into an upper garden filled with orange trees, and a lower garden that was subdivided into garden rooms with walls of hedges, rows of trees and tunnels of citrus trees and cedars. A central axis, articulated by a series of fountains, extended from the villa up to the base of Monte Morello. In this arrangement, the garden had both grand perspectives and enclosed, private spaces

The lower garden had a large marble fountain that was meant to be seen against a backdrop of dark cypresses, with figures of Hercules and Antaeus
Antaeus in Greek and Berber mythology was a half-giant, the son of Poseidon and Gaia, whose wife was Tinjis. Antaeus had a daughter named Alceis or Barce.-Mythology:...

. Just above this fountain, in the centre of the garden, was a labyrinth formed by cypress, laurel, myrtle, roses and box hedges. Concealed in the middle of the labyrinth was another fountain, with a statue of Venus. Around this fountain, Cosimo had bronze pipes installed under the tiles for giochi d'acqua ("water tricks"), which were concealed conduits which could be turned on with a key to drench unsuspecting guests. Another unusual feature was a tree house
Tree house
Tree houses, treehouses, or tree forts, are platforms or buildings constructed around, next to or among the trunk or branches of one or more mature trees while above ground level...

 concealed in an ivy-covered oak tree, with a square dining room inside the tree.

At the far end of the garden and set against a wall, Tribolo created an elaborate grotto, decorated with mosaics, pebbles, sea shells, imitation stalactites, and niches with groups of statues of domestic and exotic animals and birds, many with real horns, antlers and tusks. The animals symbolized the virtues and accomplishments of past members of Medici family. Water flowed from the beaks, wings and claws of the animals into marble basins below each niche. A gate could close suddenly behind visitors, and they would be soaked by hidden fountains.

Above the grotto, on the hillside, was small wood, or bosco, with a pond in the center. In the pond is a bronze statue of a shivering giant, with cold water running down over his head, which represents either the month of January or the Apennine Mountains
Apennine mountains
The Apennines or Apennine Mountains or Greek oros but just as often used alone as a noun. The ancient Greeks and Romans typically but not always used "mountain" in the singular to mean one or a range; thus, "the Apennine mountain" refers to the entire chain and is translated "the Apennine...


When the last of the Medicis died in 1737, the garden began to be altered by its new owners, the House of Lorraine
House of Lorraine
The House of Lorraine, the main and now only remaining line known as Habsburg-Lorraine, is one of the most important and was one of the longest-reigning royal houses in the history of Europe...

; the labyrinth was demolished and the statue of Venus was moved to the Villa La Petraia
Villa La Petraia
The Villa La Petraia is one of the Medici villas in Castello, near Florence, Tuscany, central Italy.It has a distinctive 19th century Belvedere on the upper east terrace on axis with the view of Florence- External links :...

. But long before then, the garden had been described by many ambassadors and foreign visitors and had become famous throughout Europe. Its principles of perspective, proportion and symmetry, its geometric planting beds and rooms with walls of trees and hedges, were adapted in both the gardens of the French Renaissance
French Renaissance
French Renaissance is a recent term used to describe a cultural and artistic movement in France from the late 15th century to the early 17th century. It is associated with the pan-European Renaissance that many cultural historians believe originated in northern Italy in the fourteenth century...

 and the garden à la française
Garden à la française
The French formal garden, also called jardin à la française, is a style of garden based on symmetry and the principle of imposing order over nature. It reached its apogee in the 17th century with the creation of the Gardens of Versailles, designed for Louis XIV by the landscape architect André Le...

 which followed.

Villa d'Este at Tivoli (1550-1572)

The Villa d'Este
Villa d'Este
The Villa d'Este is a villa situated at Tivoli, near Rome, Italy. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, it is a fine example of Renaissance architecture and the Italian Renaissance garden.-History:...

 at Tivoli
Tivoli, Italy
Tivoli , the classical Tibur, is an ancient Italian town in Lazio, about 30 km east-north-east of Rome, at the falls of the Aniene river where it issues from the Sabine hills...

 is one of the grandest and best-preserved of the Italian Renaissance gardens. It was created by Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este
Ippolito II d'Este
Ippolito d'Este was an Italian cardinal and statesman. He was a member of the House of Este, and nephew of the other Ippolito d'Este, also a cardinal.-Biography:...

, son of Alfonso I d'Este, the Duke of Ferrara, and Lucrezia Borgia
Lucrezia Borgia
Lucrezia Borgia [luˈkrɛtsia ˈbɔrʤa] was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, the powerful Renaissance Valencian who later became Pope Alexander VI, and Vannozza dei Cattanei. Her brothers included Cesare Borgia, Giovanni Borgia, and Gioffre Borgia...

. He was made a Cardinal at the age of twenty-nine and became governor of Tivoli in 1550. To develop his residence, he took over a former Franciscan
Most Franciscans are members of Roman Catholic religious orders founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. Besides Roman Catholic communities, there are also Old Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, ecumenical and Non-denominational Franciscan communities....

 convent, and for the garden he bought the adjoining steep hillside and the valley below. His chosen architect was Pirro Ligorio
Pirro Ligorio
Pirro Ligorio was an Italian architect, painter, antiquarian and garden designer.-Biography:Ligorio was born in Naples. In 1534 he moved to Rome, where he developed his interest in antiquities, and was named superintendent to the ancient monuments by the Popes Pius IV and Paul IV...

, who had been carrying out excavations for Ippolito at the nearby ruins of the ancient Villa Adriana, or Hadrian's Villa
Hadrian's Villa
The Hadrian's Villa is a large Roman archaeological complex at Tivoli, Italy.- History :The villa was constructed at Tibur as a retreat from Rome for Roman Emperor Hadrian during the second and third decades of the 2nd century AD...

, the extensive country residence of the Roman Emperor
Roman Emperor
The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman State during the imperial period . The Romans had no single term for the office although at any given time, a given title was associated with the emperor...

, Hadrian
Hadrian , was Roman Emperor from 117 to 138. He is best known for building Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern limit of Roman Britain. In Rome, he re-built the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. In addition to being emperor, Hadrian was a humanist and was philhellene in...

, that had numerous elaborate water features.

Ligorio created the garden as a series of terraces descending the steep hillside at the edge of the mountains overlooking the plain of Latium
Lazio is one of the 20 administrative regions of Italy, situated in the central peninsular section of the country. With about 5.7 million residents and a GDP of more than 170 billion euros, Lazio is the third most populated and the second richest region of Italy...

. The terraces were connected by gates and grand stairways starting from a terrace below the villa and traversing down to the Fountain of Dragons at the foot of the garden. The stairway was crossed by five traversal alleys on the different levels, which were divided into rooms by hedges and trellises covered with vines. At the crossing points of the stairway and the alleys there were pavilions, fruit trees, and aromatic plants. At the top, the promenade used by the Cardinal passed below the villa and led in one direction to the grotto of Diana
Diana (mythology)
In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of the hunt and moon and birthing, being associated with wild animals and woodland, and having the power to talk to and control animals. She was equated with the Greek goddess Artemis, though she had an independent origin in Italy...

, and in the other to the grotto of Asclepius
Asclepius is the God of Medicine and Healing in ancient Greek religion. Asclepius represents the healing aspect of the medical arts; his daughters are Hygieia , Iaso , Aceso , Aglæa/Ægle , and Panacea...


The glory of the Villa d'Este was the system of fountains, fed by two aqueducts that Ligorio constructed from the River Aniene
-External links:**...

. In the centre of the garden, the alley of one hundred fountains (which actually had two hundred fountains), crossed the hillside, connecting the Oval Fountain with the Fountain of Rome, which was decorated with models of the famous landmarks of Rome. On a lower level, another alley passed by the Fountain of Dragons and joined the Fountain of Proserpina
Proserpina or Proserpine is an ancient Roman goddess whose story is the basis of a myth of Springtime. Her Greek goddess' equivalent is Persephone. The probable origin of her name comes from the Latin, "proserpere" or "to emerge," in respect to the growing of grain...

 with the Fountain of the Owl. Still lower, an alley of fishponds connected the Fountain of the Organ to the site of a proposed Fountain of Neptune.

Each fountain and path told a story, linking the d'Este family to the legends of Hercules and Hippolytus
Hippolytus (mythology)
thumb|260px|The Death of Hippolytus, by [[Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema]] .In Greek mythology, Hippolytus was a son of Theseus and either Antiope or Hippolyte...

 or Ippolito, the mythical son of Theseus
For other uses, see Theseus Theseus was the mythical founder-king of Athens, son of Aethra, and fathered by Aegeus and Poseidon, both of whom Aethra had slept with in one night. Theseus was a founder-hero, like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, all of whom battled and overcame foes that were...

 and Hippolyta
In Greek mythology, Hippolyta or Hippolyte is the Amazonian queen who possessed a magical girdle she was given by her father Ares, the god of war. The girdle was a waist belt that signified her authority as queen of the Amazons....

, the Queen of the Amazons
The Amazons are a nation of all-female warriors in Greek mythology and Classical antiquity. Herodotus placed them in a region bordering Scythia in Sarmatia...

. The central axis led to the Fountain of Dragons, which illustrated one of the labours of Hercules, and three other statues of Hercules were found in the garden. The myth of Ippolito, the mythical namesake of the owner, was illustrated by two grottos, that of Asclepius and Diana.

The Fountain of the Owl used a series of bronze pipes like flutes to make the sound of birds but the most famous feature of the garden was the great Organ Fountain. It was described by the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne
Michel de Montaigne
Lord Michel Eyquem de Montaigne , February 28, 1533 – September 13, 1592, was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularising the essay as a literary genre and is popularly thought of as the father of Modern Skepticism...

, who visited the garden in 1580: "The music of the Organ Fountain is true music, naturally created...made by water which falls with great violence into a cave, rounded and vaulted, and agitates the air, which is forced to exit through the pipes of an organ. Other water, passing through a wheel, strikes in a certain order the keyboard of the organ. The organ also imitates the sound of trumpets, the sound of cannon, and the sound of muskets, made by the sudden fall of water ...

The garden was substantially changed after the death of the Cardinal and in the 17th century, and many statues were sold, but the basic features remain, and the Organ Fountain has recently been restored and plays music once again.

Mannerism and the Gardens of the Late Renaissance

Mannerism was a style which developed in painting in the 1520s, which defied the traditional rules of Renaissance painting. "Mannerist paintings were intensely stylish, polished and complex, their composition bizarre, the subject matter fantastic." This also describes other mannerist gardens which appeared beginning about 1560.

Villa della Torre (1559)

The Villa della Tore, built for Giulio della Torre (1480–1563), a law professor and humanist scholar in Verona
Verona ; German Bern, Dietrichsbern or Welschbern) is a city in the Veneto, northern Italy, with approx. 265,000 inhabitants and one of the seven chef-lieus of the region. It is the second largest city municipality in the region and the third of North-Eastern Italy. The metropolitan area of Verona...

, was a parody of the classical rules of Vitruvius; the peristyle
In Hellenistic Greek and Roman architecture a peristyle is a columned porch or open colonnade in a building surrounding a court that may contain an internal garden. Tetrastoon is another name for this feature...

 of the building was in the perfectly harmonious Vitruvius style, but some of the stones were rough-cut and of different sizes and decorated with masks which sprayed water, which jarred the classical harmony. "The building was deformed: it seemed to be caught in a strange, amorphous condition, somewhere crude rustic simplicity and classical perfection." The fireplaces inside were in the forms of the mouths of gigantic masks. Outside, the garden was filled with disturbing architectural elements, including a grotto whose entrance represented the mouth of hell, with eyes that showed fires burning inside.

Sacro Bosco at Bomarzo, Lazio (1552-1584)

The Sacro Bosco
Park of the Monsters
The Park of the Monsters , also named Garden of Bomarzo, is a Renaissance monumental complex located in Bomarzo, in the province of Viterbo, in northern Lazio, Italy....

, or "Sacred Wood," was the most famous and extravagant of the Mannerist gardens. It was created for Pier Francesco Orsini
Pier Francesco Orsini
Pier Francesco Orsini , also called Vicino Orsini, was an Italian condottiero and patron of the arts. He is famous as the commissioner of the Mannerist Park of the Monsters in Bomarzo .-Biography:...

 (1523–84) near the village of Bomarzo
Bomarzo is a town and comune of the province of Viterbo , in the lower valley of the Tiber. It is located 14.5 km ENE of Viterbo and 68 km NNW of Rome.-History:...

. It was witty and irreverent, and violated all the rules of Renaissance gardens; it had no symmetry, no order, and no focal point. An inscription in the garden said: "You who have travelled the world in search of great and stupendous marvels, come here, where there are horrendous faces, elephants, lions, ogres and dragons."

The garden was filled with enormous statues, reached by wandering paths. It included a mouth of hell, a house that seemed to be falling over, fantastic animals and figures, many of them carved of rough volcanic rock in place in the garden. Some of the scenes were taken from the romantic epic poem Orlando Furioso
Orlando Furioso
Orlando Furioso is an Italian epic poem by Ludovico Ariosto which has exerted a wide influence on later culture. The earliest version appeared in 1516, although the poem was not published in its complete form until 1532...

 by Ludovico Ariosto
Ludovico Ariosto
Ludovico Ariosto was an Italian poet. He is best known as the author of the romance epic Orlando Furioso . The poem, a continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo's Orlando Innamorato, describes the adventures of Charlemagne, Orlando, and the Franks as they battle against the Saracens with diversions...

, others from works by Dante Alighieri
Dante Alighieri
Durante degli Alighieri, mononymously referred to as Dante , was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. He is best known for the monumental epic poem La commedia, later named La divina commedia ...

 and Francesco Petrarch
Francesco Petrarca , known in English as Petrarch, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest humanists. Petrarch is often called the "Father of Humanism"...

. As one inscription in the garden notes, the Sacro Bosco "resembles only itself, and nothing else."

The First Botanical Gardens

The Italian Renaissance also saw a revolution in the study of botany
Botany, plant science, or plant biology is a branch of biology that involves the scientific study of plant life. Traditionally, botany also included the study of fungi, algae and viruses...

 through the systematic classification of plants and the creation of the first botanical garden
Botanical garden
A botanical garden The terms botanic and botanical, and garden or gardens are used more-or-less interchangeably, although the word botanic is generally reserved for the earlier, more traditional gardens. is a well-tended area displaying a wide range of plants labelled with their botanical names...

s. During the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, plants were studied for the medicinal uses. Until the 16th century, the standard work on botany was De Materia Medica
Materia medica
Materia medica is a Latin medical term for the body of collected knowledge about the therapeutic properties of any substance used for healing . The term 'materia medica' derived from the title of a work by the Ancient Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides in the 1st century AD, De materia medica libre...

written in the 1st century AD by a Greek physician, Pedanius Dioscorides
Pedanius Dioscorides
Pedanius Dioscorides was a Greek physician, pharmacologist and botanist, the author of a 5-volume encyclopedia about herbal medicine and related medicinal substances , that was widely read for more than 1,500 years.-Life:...

, that described six hundred plants but lacked many of the native plants of Italy and had vague descriptions with stylized and inexact illustrations. In 1533, the University of Padua
University of Padua
The University of Padua is a premier Italian university located in the city of Padua, Italy. The University of Padua was founded in 1222 as a school of law and was one of the most prominent universities in early modern Europe. It is among the earliest universities of the world and the second...

 created the first chair of botany and appointed Francesco Bonafede as the first Professore Similicium- professor of 'simples,' or medicinal plants. In 1545, a scholar from the medical school of the University of Padua, Pietro Andrea Mattioli
Pietro Andrea Mattioli
Pietro Andrea Gregorio Mattioli was a doctor and naturalist born in Siena.He received his MD at the University of Padua in 1523, and subsequently practiced the profession in Siena, Rome, Trento and Gorizia, becoming personal physician of Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria in Prague and Ambras...

, wrote a new book on medicinal herbs
Herbalism is a traditional medicinal or folk medicine practice based on the use of plants and plant extracts. Herbalism is also known as botanical medicine, medical herbalism, herbal medicine, herbology, herblore, and phytotherapy...

, Commentarii in libros sex Pedacii Dioscoridis, which, in successive editions, systematically described and gave the medicinal uses of twelve hundred different plants. Such scientific work was aided by sailors and explorers returning from the New World
New World
The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...

, Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

 and Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, who brought back samples of plants unknown in Europe.

In June 1543, the University of Padua created the world's first botanical garden, the Orto botanico di Padova, and the University of Pisa
University of Pisa
The University of Pisa , located in Pisa, Tuscany, is one of the oldest universities in Italy. It was formally founded on September 3, 1343 by an edict of Pope Clement VI, although there had been lectures on law in Pisa since the 11th century...

 followed with its own garden, the Orto botanico di Pisa
Orto botanico di Pisa
The Orto botanico di Pisa, also known as the Orto Botanico dell'Università di Pisa, is a botanical garden operated by the University of Pisa, and located at via Luca Ghini 5, Pisa, Italy...

, in 1545. By 1591, the garden at Padua
Padua is a city and comune in the Veneto, northern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Padua and the economic and communications hub of the area. Padua's population is 212,500 . The city is sometimes included, with Venice and Treviso, in the Padua-Treviso-Venice Metropolitan Area, having...

 had over 1,168 different plants and trees, including a fan palm
Fan palm
Fan palm as a descriptive term can refer to any of several different kinds of palms in various genera with leaves that are palmately compound...

 tree brought from Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

. In 1545, in Florence, Cosimo de' Medici founded the Giardino dei Semplici, the garden of medicinal herbs. Soon the medical schools of the universities of Bologna
University of Bologna
The Alma Mater Studiorum - University of Bologna is the oldest continually operating university in the world, the word 'universitas' being first used by this institution at its foundation. The true date of its founding is uncertain, but believed by most accounts to have been 1088...

, Ferrara
University of Ferrara
The University of Ferrara is the main university of the city of Ferrara in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. In the years prior to the First World War the University of Ferrara, with more than 500 students, was the best attended of the free universities in Italy...

 and Sassari
University of Sassari
The University of Sassari is a university located in Sassari, Italy. It was founded in 1562 and is organized in 11 Faculties.The University of Sassari gains the first place in the ranking for the best “medium- sized” italian university, in 2009, by the Censis Research Institute.-History and...

 all had their own botanical gardens filled with exotic plants from around the world.

Other gardens of the Italian Renaissance

  • Villa Lante
    Villa Lante
    Villa Lante at Bagnaia is a Mannerist garden of surprise near Viterbo, central Italy, attributed to Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola).The villa is known as the "Villa Lante"...

  • Boboli Gardens
    Boboli Gardens
    The Boboli Gardens are a park in Florence, Italy, that is home to a collection of sculptures dating from the 16th through the 18th centuries, with some Roman antiquities.-History and layout:...

  • Giardini di Giusti
    Giardini di Giusti
    The Giardini di Giusti were planted in 1580 to surround the Villa Giusti, in Padua, Verona - northern Italy.-Features:thumb|275px|right|Giardini di Giusti and [[Villa Giusti]]; in the early 20th century.The Italian Renaissance gardens are regarded as some of the most beautiful Renaissance gardens...

  • Giardino Bardini
  • Villa d'Este
    Villa d'Este
    The Villa d'Este is a villa situated at Tivoli, near Rome, Italy. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, it is a fine example of Renaissance architecture and the Italian Renaissance garden.-History:...

  • Villa Aldobrandini
    Villa Aldobrandini
    The Villa Aldobrandini is a villa in Frascati, Italy, property of the Aldobrandini family. Also known as Belvedere for its charming location overlooking the whole valley up to Rome, it was rebuilt on the order of Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, Pope Clement VIII's nephew over a pre-existing edifice...

  • Villa Capponi (1570)

Gallery of Italian Renaissance Gardens

See also

  • Grandi Giardini Italiani
    Grandi Giardini Italiani
    The Grandi Giardini Italiani is an association of major gardens in Italy. Its members include some of the most important gardens in Italy.- List of member gardens :* Fondazione Pompeo Mariani * Giardini Botanici di Stigliano...

  • Renaissance gardens


  • Attlee, Helena. Italian Gardens - A Cultural History, Francis Lincoln Limited Publishers, 2006
  • Impelluso,Lucia. Jardins, potagers et labyrinthes, Editions Hazan, Paris, 2007
  • Allain, Yves-Marie and Christiany, Janine L'art des jardins en Europe, Citadelles and Mazenod, Paris, 2006
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