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ITALIAN VILLAS
THEIR GARDENS

BY

EDITH WHARTON

WITH PICTVRES BY
MAXFIELD RARRFSH



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-pecial
Collect

1904



North (Earohna i^tatp HniaprHtty

IN HONOR OF

DORIS B. MERITT

BY

DR. JOSEPH E. MERITT




"""" 5«»0U'H STATE UMVEIISITY II6«»III£S



S00943476 X



THIS BOOK MUST NOT BE TAKEN
FROM THE LIBRARY BUILDING.



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Digitized by tine Internet Arciiive

in 2009 witii funding from

NCSU Libraries



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ITALIAN VILLAS AND
THEIR GARDENS



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ITALIAN VILLAS

AND THEIR GARDENS



BY



EDITH WHARTON



ILLUSTRATED WITH PICTURES BY

MAXFIELD PARRISH

AND BY PHOTOGRAPHS




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NEW YORK
THE CENTURY CO.

1904






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Copyright, 1903, 1904, by
Thk Century Co.



Published JVoz'ember^ ^904



THE DEVINNE PRESS



TO

VERNON LEE

WHO, BETTER THAN ANY ONE ELSE, HAS UNDERSTOOD

AND INTERPRETED THE GARDEN-MAGIC

OF ITALY



CONTENTS

PAGE

INTRODUCTION 5

I
FLORENTINE VILLAS 19

II

SIENESE VILLAS 63

III

ROMAN VILLAS 81

IV

VILLAS NEAR ROME

I Caprarola and Lante 127

II Villa d'Este 139

III Frascati 148

V
GENOESE VILLAS 173

VI
LOMBARD VILLAS 197

VII

VILLAS OF VENETIA 231

vii



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

PAGE

Villa Campi, near Florence Frontispiece

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

The Reservoir, Villa Falconieri, Frascati 4

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

The Cascade, Villa Torlonia, Frascati 9

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Fountain of Venus, Villa Petraja, Florence i8

From a Photograph.

Villa Gamberaia at Settignano, near Florence 20

Drawn by C. A. Vanderhoof, from a Photograph.

Boboli Garden, Florence 24

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Entrance to Upper Garden, Boboli Garden, Florence .... 27

From a Photograph.

Cypress Alley, Boboli Garden, Florence 31

From a Photograph.

Ilex-walk, Boboli Garden, Florence r . . . 36

From a Photograph.

Villa Gamberaia, near Florence 39

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

View of Amphitheatre, Boboli Garden, Florence 44

From a Photograph.

Villa Corsini, Florence 49

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Vicobello, Siena 62

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

ix



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

PAGE

La Palazzina (Villa Gori), Siena 67

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

The Theatre at La Palazzina, Siena 73

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

The Dome of St. Peter's, from the Vatican Gardens .... 80

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Entrance to Forecourt, Villa Borghese, Rome 87

From a Photograph.

Grotto, Villa di Papa Giulio, Rome 91

From a Pliotograph.

Temple of .(Esculapius, Villa Borghese, Rome 96

From a Photograph.

Villa Medici, Rome lOO

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Courtyard Gate of the Villa Pia, Vatican Gardens 102

Drawn by E. Denison, from a Photograph.

Villa Pia — In the Gardens of the Vatican 105

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Gateway of the Villa Borghese 108

Drawn by E. Denison, from a Photograph.

Villa Chigi, Rome Hi

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Parterres on Terrace, Villa Belrespiro (Pamphily-Doria), Rome . 116

From a Photograph.

View from Lower Garden, Villa Belrespiro (Pamphily-Doria),
Rome 121

From a Photograph.

Villa d'Este, Tivoli 126

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Villa Caprarola 129

From a retouched Photograph.

The Casino, Villa Farnese, Caprarola 133

From a Photograph.

Villa Lante, Bagnaia 138

From a Photograph.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

PAGE

The Pool, Villa d'Este, Tivoli 141

Drawn by Max field Parrish.

Villa Lante, Bagnaia 146

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Cascade and Rotunda, Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati .... 149

From a Photograph.

Garden of Villa Lancellotti, Frascati 153

From a Photograph.

Casino, Villa Falconieri, Frascati 157

From a Photograph.

The Entrance, Villa Falconieri, Frascati 161

From a Photograph.

Villa Lancellotti, Frascati 165

From a Photograph.

Villa Scassi, Genoa 1 72

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

A Garden-niche, Villa Scassi, Genoa ......... 181

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Villa Cicogna, Bisuschio ig6

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Villa Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore 203

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

In the Gardens of Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore 210

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Villa Cicogna, from the Terrace above the House 216

From a Photograph.



Villa Pliniana, Lake Como 221

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Iron Gates of the Villa Alario (now Visconti di Saliceto) . . . 224

Drawn by E. Denison, from a Photograph.

Railing of the Villa Alario 225

Drawn by Malcolm Fraser, from a Photograph,

Gateway of the Botanic Garden, Padua 230

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

PAGE

View at Val San Zibio, near Battaglia 235

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.

Plan of the Botanic Garden, Padua 239

Drawn by E. Denison, from Sketch by the Author.

Val San Zibio, near Battaglia 241

Drawn by Maxfiekl Parrish.

Gateway, Villa Pisani, Stra 244

Drawn by E. Denison, from a Photograph.

Villa Valmarana, Vicenza 247

Drawn by Maxfield Parrish.



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ITALIAN VILLAS AND
THEIR GARDENS







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ITALIAN VILLAS AND
THEIR GARDENS



INTRODUCTION

ITALIAN GARDEN-MAGIC

THOUGH it is an exaggeration to say that there
are no flowers in Itahan gardens, yet to enjoy and
appreciate the Italian garden-craft one must
always bear in mind that it is independent of floriculture.

The Italian garden does not exist for its flowers ;
its flowers exist for it: they are a late and infrequent
adjunct to its beauties, a parenthetical grace counting
only as one more touch in the general effect of en-
chantment. This is no doubt partly explained by the
difficulty of cultivating any but spring flowers in so hot
and dry a climate, and the result has been a wonderful
development of the more permanent effects to be ob-
tained from the three other factors in garden-composi-
tion — marble, water and perennial verdure — and the
achievement, by their skilful blending, of a charm inde-
pendent of the seasons.

It is hard to explain to the modern garden-lover,

5



ITALIAN VILLAS

whose whole conception of the charm of gardens is formed
of successive pictures of flower-lovehness, how this effect
of enchantment can be produced by anything so dull
and monotonous as a mere combination of clipped green
and stone-work.

The traveller returning from Italy, with his eyes and
imagination full of the ineffable Italian garden-magic,
knows vaguely that the enchantment exists ; that he has
been under its spell, and that it is more potent, more
enduring, more intoxicating to every sense than the
most elaborate and glowing effects of modern horticul-
ture ; but he may not have found the key to the mys-
tery. Is it because the sky is bluer, because the vege-
tation is more luxuriant? Our midsummer skies are
almost as deep, our foliage is as rich, and perhaps more
varied ; there are, indeed, not a few resemblances be-
tween the North American summer climate and that of
Italy in spring and autumn.

Some of those who have fallen under the spell are
inclined to ascribe the Italian garden-magic to the effect
of time ; but, wonder-working as this undoubtedly is, it
leaves many beauties unaccounted for. To seek the
answer one must go deeper : the garden must be studied
in relation to the house, and both in relation to the land-
scape. The garden of the Middle Ages, the garden one
sees in old missal illuminations and in early woodcuts,
was a mere patch of ground within the castle precincts,
where "simples" were grown around a central well-

6



ITALIAN GARDEN-MAGIC

head and fruit was espaliered against the walls. But
in the rapid flowering of Italian civilization the castle
walls were soon thrown down, and the garden expanded,
taking in the fish-pond, the bowling-green, the rose-
arbour and the clipped walk. The Italian country house,
especially in the centre and the south of Italy, was
almost always built on a hillside, and one day the
architect looked forth from the terrace of his villa, and
saw that, in his survey of the garden, the enclosing
landscape was naturally included : the two formed a
part of the same composition.

The recognition of this fact was the first step in the
development of the great garden-art of the Renaissance:
the next was the architect's discovery of the means by
which nature and art might be fused in his picture. He
had now three problems to deal with : his garden must be
adapted to the architectural lines of the house it adjoined;
it must be adapted to the requirements of the inmates of
the house, in the sense of providing shady walks, sunny
bowling-greens, parterres and orchards, all conveniently
accessible ; and lastly it must be adapted to the land-
scape around it. At no time and in no country has this
triple problem been so successfully dealt with as in the
treatment of the Italian country house from the begin-
ning of the sixteenth to the end of the eighteenth cen-
tury ; and in the blending of different elements, the
subtle transition from the fixed and formal lines of art
to the shifting and irregular lines of nature, and lastly

7



ITALIAN VILLAS

in the essential convenience and livableness of the gar-
den, Hes the fundamental secret of the old garden-magic.

However much other factors may contribute to the
total impression of charm, yet by eliminating them one
after another, by thinking aiuay the flowers, the sunlight,
the rich tinting of time, one finds that, underlying all
these, there is the deeper harmony of design which is
independent of any adventitious effects. This does not
imply that a plan of an Italian garden is as beautiful as
the garden itself. The more permanent materials of
which the latter is made — the stonework, the evergreen
foliage, the effects of rushing or motionless water, above
all the lines of the natural scenery — all form a part of
the artist's design. But these things are as beautiful at
one season as at another ; and even these are but the
accessories of the fundamental plan. The inherent
beauty of the garden lies in the grouping of its parts —
in the converging lines of its long ilex-walks, the alter-
nation of sunny open spaces with cool woodland shade,
the proportion between terrace and bowling-green, or
between the height of a wall and the width of a path.
None of these details was negligible to the landscape-
architect of the Renaissance : he considered the distri-
bution of shade and sunlight, of straight lines of masonry
and rippled lines of foliage, as carefully as he weighed
the relation of his whole composition to the scene
about it.

Then, again, any one who studies the old Italian



ITALIAN GARDEN-MAGIC

gardens will be struck with the way in which the archi-
tect broadened and simphfied his plan if it faced a
grandiose landscape. Intricacy of detail, complicated
groupings of terraces, fountains, labyrinths and porti-
coes, are found in sites where there is no great sweep
of landscape attuning the eye to larger impressions.
The farther north one goes, the less grand the land-
scape becomes and the more elaborate the garden. The
great pleasure-grounds overlooking the Roman Cam-
pagna are laid out on severe and majestic lines : the
parts are few ; the total effect is one of breadth and
simplicity.

It is because, in the modern revival of gardening, so
little attention has been paid to these first principles of
the art that the garden-lover should not content himself
with a vague enjoyment of old Italian gardens, but
should try to extract from them principles which may
be applied at home. He should observe, for instance,
that the old Italian garden was meant to be lived in —
a use to which, at least in America, the modern garden
is seldom put. He should note that, to this end, the
grounds were as carefully and conveniently planned as
the house, with broad paths (in which two or more
could go abreast) leading from one division to another ;
with shade easily accessible from the house, as well as
a sunny sheltered walk for winter ; and with effective
transitions from the dusk of wooded alleys to open
flowery spaces or to the level sward of the bowling-

I I



ITALIAN VILLAS

green. He should remember that the terraces and
formal gardens adjoined the house, that the ilex or
laurel walks beyond were clipped into shape to effect a
transition between the straight lines of masonry and the
untrimmed growth of the woodland to which they led,
and that each step away from architecture was a nearer
approach to nature.

The cult of the Italian garden has spread from Eng-
land to America, and there is a general feeling that, by
placing a marble bench here and a sun-dial there, Italian
"effects" may be achieved. The results produced,
even where much money and thought have been ex-
pended, are not altogether satisfactory ; and some critics
have thence inferred that the Italian garden is, so to
speak, untranslatable, that it cannot be adequately ren-
dered in another landscape and another age.

Certain effects, those which depend on architectural
grandeur as well as those due to colouring and age, are
no doubt unattainable ; but there is, none the less, much
to be learned from the old Italian gardens, and the first
lesson is that, if they are to be a real inspiration, they
must be copied, not in the letter but in the spirit. That
is, a marble sarcophagus and a dozen twisted columns
will not make an Italian garden ; but a piece of ground
laid out and planted on the principles of the old garden-
craft will be, not indeed an Italian garden in the literal
sense, but, what is far better, a garden as ivcll adapted
to its surroundings as ivere the models wliieh inspired it.

1 2



ITALIAN GARDEN-MAGIC

This is the secret to be learned from the villas of
Italy ; and no one who has looked at them with this
object in view will be content to relapse into vague ad-
miration of their loveliness. As Brownmg, in passing
Cape St. Vincent and Trafalgar Bay, cried out :

" Here and here did England help me: how can I help
England ? " — say,

SO the garden-lover, who longs to transfer something
of the old garden-magic to his own patch of ground at
home, will ask himself, in wandering under the umbrella-
pines of the Villa Borghese, or through the box-par-
terres of the Villa Lante : What can I bring away from
here ? And the more he studies and compares, the
more inevitably will the answer be: "Not this or that
amputated statue, or broken bas-relief, or fragmentary
effect of any sort, but a sense of the informing spirit —
an understanding of the gardener's purpose, and of the
uses to which he meant his garden to be put."



13



FLORENTINE VILLAS



FLORENTINE VILLAS

FOR centuries Florence has been celebrated for
her villa-clad hills. According to an old chron-
icler, the country houses were more splendid
than those in the town, and stood so close-set among
their olive-orchards and vineyards that the traveller
"thought himself in Florence three leagues before
reaching the city."

Many of these houses still survive, strongly planted
on their broad terraces, from the fifteenth-century farm-
house-villa, with its projecting eaves and square tower,
to the many-windowed maison de plaisance in which
the luxurious nobles of the seventeenth century spent
the gambling and chocolate-drinking weeks of the vin-
tage season. It is characteristic of Florentine thrift and
conservatism that the greater number of these later and
more pretentious villas are merely additions to the plain
old buildings, while, even in the rare cases where the
whole structure is new, the baroque exuberance which
became fashionable in the seventeenth century is tem-
pered by a restraint and severity peculiarly Tuscan.

So numerous and well preserved are the buildings

19



n A L I A N \M L L A S

of this order about Florence that the student who should
attempt to give an account of them would have before
him a long and laborious undertaking ; but where the
villa is to be considered in relation to its garden, the
task is reduced to narrow limits. There is perhaps no
region of Italy so rich in old villas and so lacking in old




VILLA CAMBERAIA, AT SETTICNANO, NEAR FLORENCE

gardens as the neighbourhood of Florence. Various
causes have brought about this result. The environs
of Florence have always been frequented by the wealthy
classes, not only Italian but foreign. The Tuscan
nobility have usually been rich enough to alter their
gardens in accordance with the varying horticultural

20



FLORENTINE VILLAS

fashions imported from England and France ; and the
Enghsh who have colonized in such numbers the slopes
above the Arno have contributed not a little to the
destruction of the old gardens by introducing into their
horticultural plans two features entirely alien to the
Tuscan climate and soil, namely, lawns and deciduous
shade-trees.

Many indeed are the parterres and terraces which
have disappeared before the Britannic craving for a
lawn, many the olive-orchards and vineyards which
must have given way to the thinly dotted "specimen
trees " so dear to the English landscape-gardener, who
is still, with rare exceptions, the slave of his famous
eighteenth-century predecessors, Repton and " Capa-
bility Brown," as the English architect is still the de-
scendant of Pugin and the Gothic revival. This
Anglicization of the Tuscan garden did not, of course,
come only from direct English influence. The jardin
mtglais was fashionable in France when Marie Antoi-
nette laid out the Petit Trianon, and Herr Tuckermann,
in his book on Italian gardens, propounds a theory, for
which he gives no very clear reasons, to the effect that
the naturalistic school of gardening actually originated
in Italy, in the Borghese gardens in Rome, which he
supposes to have been laid out more or less in their
present form by Giovanni Fontana, as early as the first
quarter of the seventeenth century.

It is certain, at any rate, that the Florentines adopted
21



ITALIAN VILLAS

the new fashion early in the nineteenth century, as is
shown — to give but one instance — in the vast Torri-
giani gardens, near the Porta Romana, laid out by the
Marchese Torrigiani about 1830 in the most approved
"landscape" style, with an almost complete neglect of
the characteristic Tuscan vegetation and a correspond-
ing disregard of Italian climate and habits. The large
English colony has, however, undoubtedly done much
to encourage, even in the present day, the alteration of
the old gardens and the introduction of alien vegetation
in those which have been partly preserved. It is, for
instance, typical of the old Tuscan villa that the farm,
ox podere, should come up to the edge of the terrace on
which the house stands ; but in most cases where old
villas have been bought by foreigners, the vineyards
and olive-orchards near the house have been turned
into lawns dotted with plantations of exotic trees.
Under these circumstances it is not surprising that but
few unaltered gardens are to be found near Florence.
To learn what the old Tuscan garden was, one must
search the environs of the smaller towns, and there are
more interesting examples about Siena than in the whole
circuit of the Florentine hills.

The old Italian architects distinguished two classes
of country houses : the villa subitrbaiia, or niaisoii de
piaisance (literally the pleasure-house), standing within
or just without the city walls, surrounded by pleasure-
grounds and built for a few weeks' residence ; and the



FLORENTINE VILLAS

country house, which is an expansion of the old farm,
and stands generally farther out of town, among its
fields and vineyards — the seat of the country gentleman
living on his estates. The Italian pleasure-garden did
not reach its full development till the middle of the six-
teenth century, and doubtless many of the old Floren-
tine villas, the semi-castle and the quasi-farm of the
fourteenth century, stood as they do now, on a bare
terrace among the vines, with a small walled enclosure
for the cultivation of herbs and vegetables. But of the
period in which the garden began to be a studied archi-
tectural extension of the house, few examples are to be
found near Florence.

The most important, if not the most pleasing, of
Tuscan pleasure-gardens lies, however, within the city
walls. This is the Boboli garden, laid out on the steep
hillside behind the Pitti Palace. The plan of the BoboH
garden is not only magnificent in itself, but interesting
as one of the rare examples, in Tuscany, of a Renais-
sance garden still undisturbed in its main outlines.
Eleonora de' Medici, who purchased the Pitti Palace in
1549, soon afterward acquired the neighbouring ground,
and the garden was laid out by II Tribolo, continued by
Buontalenti, and completed by Bartolommeo Ammanati,
to whom is also due the garden fa9ade of the palace.
The scheme of the garden is worthy of careful study,
though in many respects the effect it now produces is
far less impressive than its designers intended. Prob-

25



riALlAN \1LLAS

ably no grounds of equal grandeur and extent have less
of that peculiar magic which one associates with the old
Italian garden — a fact doubtless due less to defects of
composition than to later changes in the details of plant-
ing and decoration. Still, the main outline remains and
is full of instruction to the garden-lover.

The palace is built against the steep hillside, which
is dug out to receive it, a high retaining-wall being built
far enough back from the central body of the house to
allow the latter to stand free. The ground floor of the
palace is so far below ground that its windows look
across a paved court at the face of the retaining-wall,
which Ammanati decorated with an architectural com-
position representing a grotto, from which water was
meant to gush as though issuing from the hillside. This
grotto he surmounted with a magnificent fountain, stand-
ing on a level with the first-floor windows of the palace
and with the surrounding gardens. The arrangement
shows ingenuity in overcoming a technical difiiculty,
and the effect, from the garden, is very successful,
though the well-like court makes an unfortunate gap
between the house and its grounds.

Behind the fountain, and in a line with it, a horseshoe-
shaped amphitheatre has been cut out of the hillside,
surrounded by tiers of stone seats adorned with statues
in niches and backed by clipped laurel hedges, behind
which rise the ilex-clad slopes of the upper gardens.
This amphitheatre is one of the triumphs of Italian

J')



FLORENTINE VILLAS

garden-architecture. In general design and detail it
belongs to the pure Renaissance, without trace of the
heavy and fantastic barrochismo which, half a century
later, began to disfigure such compositions in the villas
near Rome. Indeed, comparison with the grotesque
garden-architecture of the Villa d'Este at Tivoli, which
is but little later in date, shows how long the Tuscan
sense of proportion and refinement of taste resisted the
ever-growing desire to astonish instead of charming the
spectator.

On each side of the amphitheatre, clipped ilex-walks
climb the hill, coming out some distance above on a
plateau containing the toy lake with its little island, the
Isola Bella, which was once the pride of the Boboli
garden. This portion of the grounds has been so
stripped of its architectural adornments and of its sur-
rounding vegetation that it is now merely forlorn ; and
the same may be said of the little upper garden, reached
by an imposing flight of steps and commanding a wide
view over Florence. One must revert to the architect's
plan to see how admirably adapted it was to the difficul-
ties of the site he had to deal with, and how skilfully he
harmonized the dense shade of his ilex-groves with the
great open spaces and pompous architectural effects
necessary in a garden which was to form a worthy set-
ting for the pageants of a Renaissance court. It is
interesting to note in this connection that the flower-
garden, or giardiiw segreto, which in Renaissance gar-

29



ITALIAN VILLAS

dens almost invariably adjoins the house, has here been
relegated to the hilltop, doubtless because the only level
space near the palace was required for state ceremonials
and theatrical entertainments rather than for private
enjoyment.

It is partly because the Boboli is a court-garden, and
not designed for private use, that it is less interesting
and instructive than many others of less importance.


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