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.
“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.
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.
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.