The Renaissance garden (also called formal garden or Italian garden) develops as a natural evolution of the medieval garden that is remodeled in the light of the new sensitivity of the avant-garde environment of fifteenth-century Florence. Bernardo Rucellai, in his Quaracchi Garden, begins by introducing a pergola connecting the villa to the Arno river, the first clear example of perspective research in inserting the garden into the landscape. Other novelties are of classical inspiration according to the fashion of the time: boxwoods modeled following the dictates of the Ars Topiaria, vases, seats and statues in marble, labyrinths of shrubs just to name a few.
In the fifteenth century, however, it is only a question of trends, of inclination towards the pleasant rather than true and rigorous projects. At least until the writing of Leon Battista Alberti’s De Re Aedificatoria (around 1450). The solutions and models proposed in the treatise became real paradigms over time: the amphitheater in front of the villa, the arrangement of the ornamental statues, the box trees modeled in letters and figures, the plants organized in geometric designs, the ornate caves of shells, just to name a few. Alberti’s concept of the search for a “happy panoramic position” and subsequently the very strong abstraction and theoretical rigor in the description of the garden of the island of Kythera that emerge in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili written in 1499 by Francesco Colonna, lay the foundations of the dominating reason nature, man at the center of the universe that will reach its peak in the sixteenth century.
The fundamental characteristics of the so-called “formal” or “Italian-style” garden were born between the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth century by the hand of two masters such as Bramante and Raffaello between the two poles of Florence and Rome. Bramante in 1503 arranged the Vatican Gardens by modeling the natural differences in level in terraces connected by stairs and in a complex game of balances between architectural works such as the Nicchione del Belvedere and the green areas. In the project (unfortunately never completed but currently preserved in the Uffizi) of the Gardens of Villa Madama Raffaello articulates an even more daring game of terraces and stairs, a synthesis of artistic genius and rational mind.
The Renaissance garden, always dominated by a palace or a villa, must integrate into the landscape without ever hiding it, hence the use of terraces and stairways. The order, symmetry and balance between greenery and architectural structures give the garden great elegance. The green areas are dominated by shrubs and hedges rigorously modeled in geometric shapes, in labyrinths, tunnels and statues. Pergolas and similar structures are enriched with vines and creepers. Few tall trees, grown in huge pots placed on pedestals to enhance the vertical development. Lawns and lawns are kept low and well-kept. Water is the protagonist of the formal garden with large rectangular pools, fountains, artificial lakes, streams, caves, water organs to amuse and amaze owners and guests.
The absolute paradigm of the Italian Renaissance garden is attributed to the work of Niccolò Tribolo with his Boboli Gardens (which he initiated but completed by Bartolomeo Ammannati for the premature death of the master) which extend behind Palazzo Pitti in Florence, Villa Castello (now home to the Accademia della Crusca and nominated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2013) and Villa Corsini (both also in Florence) which were a source of inspiration for gardens in France, England and throughout Europe .
Other beautiful examples of Italian Renaissance gardens are Villa d’Este in Tivoli also named UNESCO World Heritage Site, whose architectural scheme played between terraces and slopes is typical in Roman cities, Villa Lante in Bagnaia in Tuscia together with the Parco dei Monsters of Bomarzo.Back to Index