Gardens and Parks

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GARDENS AND PARKS. Long appreciated for their formal and botanical contents, the gardens and parks of early modern Europe were also products of complex historical forces and conditions. Between the mid-fifteenth and late eighteenth centuries, major trends included increasing integration of architecture and garden design; an increasing dominance of axial composition and bilateral symmetry; new emphasis on visual integration between gardens and the surrounding landscape; and, in the eighteenth century, the emergence and development of irregular design.

In Renaissance Italy, developments in garden design were greatly influenced by the rise of humanist culture and the emergence of urban-based elites. Literary works such as the Ten Books on Architecture (1452; published 1485), by Leon-Battista Alberti (14041472), and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499), attributed to the monk Francesco Colonna (14331527), promoted rural life and antiquarianism while describing alternatives to the medieval hortus conclusus, 'enclosed garden'. In garden design, humanist interests were discernible in new emphases on geometry, harmony, and spatial integration, in keeping with the principles of Vitruvius Pollio's Ten Books on Architecture (first century b.c.e., the sole treatise on architecture to survive from Roman antiquity); in forms drawn from literary descriptions of ancient gardens, such as those found in the letters of Pliny the Younger (first century C.E.), and from archaeological sites, such as the Temple of Fortuna Primigenia (80 b.c.e.) at Praeneste (modern Palestrina), east of Rome; and in arrangements that reflected scientific interests in the collection, classification, and management of natural specimens. Villeggiatura, 'retreat to country life', practiced by urban elites such as the Medici of Florence and the papal court in Rome, led to the development of important villa complexes in the vicinities of Italy's major urban centers. Notable examples include the Medici villas at Fiesole (c. 1455), Pratolino (1560), and other settings near Florence, many of which were depicted in lunette panels by the Flemish painter Giusto Utens (d. 1609); the Villa d'Este, Tivoli (begun in 1550), by the architect and antiquarian Pirro Ligorio (c. 15001583); the Villa Lante, Bagnaia (begun in 1564), attributed to the architect Giacomo da Vignola (born Giacomo Barozzi, 15071573); the mannerist Villa Orsini, Bomarzo, Lazio (15521580); and the Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati (15981603).

The ideas and practices cultivated in Italy spread north to France beginning in the late fifteenth century, in part through the diffusion of texts and images and in part through the migration of patrons, artists, and technicians. During the reign of Francis I (ruled 14941547), the royal château at Fontainebleau became a major center of artistic innovation, dominated first by Italian artists and later by native Frenchmen. Typical features of Renaissance garden design in France included large compartmentalized planting beds arranged in geometric patterns; elaborate arbors and trelliswork galleries; and prominent, classically themed fountains and sculptures. The integration of architecture and garden design pursued in Italy was initially resisted in France. For example, at Blois (begun c. 1500) and Gaillon (begun in 1506)among many important sites represented in Jacques Androuet du Cerceau's Les plus excellents bastiments de France (15761579)the main gardens were surrounded by walls and completely detached from the residential buildings. Greater integration and openness were found at Saint-Germain-en-Laye (new château and terrace gardens begun c. 1550) and the Tuileries (15641572), the latter having been created at the edge of Paris for Henry II's wife, Catherine de Médicis (15191589). Important examples of Renaissance design elsewhere in the north included the gardens created for Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace (15311534), west of London; designs published by the Netherlands painter and engineer Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527c. 1606) in his Hortorum viridariorumque (1587); and the Hortus Palatinus, Heidelberg (c. 1615), by the architect and engineer Salomon de Caus (15761626).

Beginning around the turn of the seventeenth century, the scale and visual organization of elite gardens and parks began to increase throughout Europe, reflecting the growing power of centralized forms of governments and the rising importance of scientific culture with its emphasis on visual perception. In and around Rome, those developments were reflected in the formation of substantial estate properties by papal families, most notably the Villa Borghese (16061633) and the Villa Pamphili (16301670). In France, the scale and visual power of axial design were expanded to unforeseen extremes in the work of André Lenôtre (16131700), first for Louis XIV's minister of finance Nicolas Fouquet (16151680) at Vaux-le-Vicomte (16561661) and subsequently for the king himself at Versailles (begun in 1663). The construction of such gardens required vast natural, technical, and human labor resources. Their realization drew upon expertise developed in military and civil engineering, and their forms referred implicitly to the power of their patrons to manipulate resources on regional and territorial scales. Versailles became a model for princely gardens throughout Europe, impossible to duplicate but nevertheless often emulated, with guidance from Dézallier d'Argenville's La théorie et la pratique du jardinage (first published in 1709). Noteworthy examples included the renovations at Hampton Court (begun in 1689) and Chatsworth (16901703) in England; Het Loo (begun in 1686; enlarged 1692) in the Netherlands; Drottningholm (begun during the 1680s), near Stockholm; the Peterhof (17131725), St. Petersburg; La Granja (17191740), San Ildefonso, Spain; and Caserta (17521754), near Naples.

The dominance of regular design was first challenged in England through influential writings about nature and irregular form by Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd earl of Shaftesbury (16711713), the essayist and statesman Joseph Addison (16721719), the theorist and designer Stephen Switzer (16821745), and the poet Alexander Pope (16881744). During the first half of the eighteenth century, a new approach emerged in which axial composition was replaced by forms that were ostensibly more natural although, in truth, equally artificial. The English version of irregular designdemonstrated at properties such as Castle Howard (begun in 1701), Stourhead (17351783), and Painshill (17381771)privileged broad views and drew inspiration, in part, from landscape paintings by Claude Lorrain (born Claude Gellée, 16001682), Gaspard Poussin (born Gaspard Dughet, 16151675), and Salvator Rosa (16151673). Designers such as Charles Bridgeman (d. 1738), William Kent (c. 16861748), and Lancelot "Capability" Brown (17151783) made frequent use of the ha-ha, a sunken fence that facilitated visual integration between the estate garden and the larger landscape. Important examples include Stowe (c. 1715c. 1776), Kent's designs for Chiswick (c. 1730) and Rousham (1738), and the renovated grounds of Blenheim Palace (begun in 1764). Investigations of irregular design began to take place on the Continent during the last third of the eighteenth century, most notably in and around Paris, where the approach flourished in gardens such as Ermenonville (begun in 1766), the Jardin de Monceau (c. 17711789), the Désert de Retz (17741794), and the Petit Trianon at Versailles (1774). Most French examples bore little resemblance to English precedents, being of smaller scale and considerably more eclectic. They nevertheless proved equally influential in the diffusion of irregular design throughout the Continent. Eventually, many of the gardens around Paris also contributed to the rise of public parks through their confiscation and use as festival spaces during the French Revolution.

See also Architecture ; Britain, Architecture in ; City Planning ; Estates and Country Houses ; France, Architecture in ; Rome, Architecture in .


Benes, Miroslava, and Dianne Harris, ed. Villas and Gardens in Early Modern Italy and France. New York, 2001.

Hunt, John Dixon, and Peter Willis, ed. The Genius of the Place: The English Landscape Garden, 16201820. London, 1975.

Laird, Mark. The Formal Garden: Traditions of Art and Nature. New York, 1992.

Mosser, Monique, and Georges Teyssot, eds. The Architecture of Western Gardens: A Design History from the Renaissance to the Present Day. Cambridge, Mass., 1991.

Thacker, Christopher. The History of Gardens. Berkeley, 1979.

David L. Hays