Hello Italy! How garden art was reshaped during the Italian Renaissance

So to begin with, garden art in Italy before the Renaissance in the 15th century was influenced heavily by Christian ideas and conspicuous consumption. Gardens were typically self-contained and were designed to create a paradise on land.

During the Renaissance, however, thinkers and philosophers began reconsidering the assumed relationship between people and God and art. A new gardening style emerged which was more expansive and mirrored the ideas of the enlightenment period.


Villas during Renaissance  were designed with care to be symmetrical, proportional, and geometric. Pictured below is an Italian Renaissance inspired garden.

Blog 2 Image 3


“A third nature” also became a pervasive idea of the time, which essentially meant that gardeners would enhance the natural scenery and fuse nature with art (Grottos are an excellent example of a third nature).

As for the features of Italian gardens, they were well known for their symmetry and axial alignment, terraces, pergolas, and water features, among others. The truly spectacular gardens employed those features, but also grew exotic and rare plants, which both represented wealth and praised God. Some of the most common types of plants were herb, woodland, and orchard.

The Italian Renaissance architecture also differed from gardens before. For instance, by drawing on Roman garden art, Italian artists were able to mimic the feel of a Roman garden. Specifically, open theaters, statues of nymphs and other creatures, and covered walkways were all reminiscent of Roman design. In fact, some statues from excavated Roman cites were re-used in Italian Gardens! Below is an example of the fusion in Renaissance thinking, featuring both sculpture, water features, and lore. The sculpture depicts Diana of Ephesus and is featured in the Villa d’Este in Tivoli.





Italian Renaissance gardens combined literature with gardening in incredibly beautiful ways. Using lore from works of the time like, The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, gardens were able to weave together literature, art, and nature. As pictured in the image below, The Apennine Colossus is a marvelous example of Renaissance work that praises nature while also sculpting it.

Blog 2 Image 1

Check out this website: http://unusualplaces.org/the-appennine-colossus/ for more information about the Appennine Colossus.

The statue above is found in the Villa di Pratolino in Tuscany, Italy. Unfortunately the garden was mostly destroyed in 1820, however remnants of the garden can still be found in the Villa Demidoff. The layout of the Villa di Pratolino displayed several characteristics common in Italian Renaissance gardens, including symmetry and the use of fountains, among others.

Blog 2 Image 2


Above, is an image of the original layout for the Villa di Pratolino, notice the axis of symmetry, but also the view over the garden which would have been present in the palace, both characteristics of Italian Renaissance gardens.

Overall, by rediscovering Roman art and architecture, Italian Renaissance gardens were able to combine art and sculpture with nature to create a magnificent scenery. In sum, Italian garden art represents the reevaluation of nature, art, and religion which took place during the Renaissance.


So what’s this gardening thing anyways?

Well, to begin with, gardens are so much more than the traditional fruit and vegetable variety. Obviously vegetables have a place in the garden, but ornamental plants and green spaces are also very dear to garden enthusiasts. From gardening for pleasure to specific hobby gardening to farming, gardening embodies a diverse range of activities.

According to Penelope Hobhouse, author of The Story of Gardening, gardens are also unique and diverse because, “Different people want different things from gardening, and different cultures and climates make people see things differently.” Based on Penelope Hobhouse’s analysis of gardens, it seems that gardening and garden art is less about the plants, and more about the general experience of being in the garden. Thus, successful landscapers will shape the natural environment in a way that accentuates the beauty already present in the area. Hobhouse’s definition also implies that gardens from one culture may seem out of place, or unnecessary when taken out of context and applied to another culture.

For instance, Roman gardens during 753 BCE were known for their exotic plants, religious themes, and general symmetry. The landscaping was also considered formal, or structured with straight lines, as demonstrated in the picture below. Roman culture also valued art and the use of sculpture in their gardens (which appears in the garden below).Roman garden pic

Traditional roman garden. For more information see this website: http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/archaeologist-kathryn-gleason-on-roman-gardens/


Monastic gardens during the Mediœval era, however, were known more for their utilitarian design and focus on practicality. Due to the desire for self-sufficiency, Monastic gardens were necessary to produce plants for food. Additionally, Mediœval gardens were known for their use of raised plant beds, as pictured below. Maintaining and owning a garden during the Mediœval era was also a luxury, as only the monastery, kings, nobility, and the wealthy working class (professionals, merchants, and artisans) were able to afford gardens.

Med. garden pic

Example of a Mediœval garden. See this website for more information: http://decodedpast.com/the-early-horticulture-of-benedictine-and-cistercian-monks/101

Based on the context then, gardens occupy different meanings and hold different social significance. Differences aside, gardens provide important opportunities for individuals to experience the outdoors and natural world. Especially as urban centers grow, green spaces and gardens will remain an important part of society. There have also been studies which link mental health with green spaces; in that, being in a green space reduces stress and helps people feel more calm. Generally, gardens are a celebration of the natural world and offer a way for people to find repose.