Bomarzo: Il Sacro Bosco


The Mouth of Hell.

The garden of Bomarzo began construction in 1542. Vicino, who was a lunatic with a hatred of Rome was the proprietor if this garden. At Bomarzo, Vicino’s garden is entirely separate from his palace and only partly visible from it, a concept that was very unorthodox during this time. He created a meandering, deliberate labyrinth journey through his garden. The path in the garden leads up from the bottom valley and up through a series of terraces Vicino cut into the hillside, passing vistas of trees and rocks with buildings and sculptures. Many of these sculptures were carved from the volcanic rock that littered the site of the garden. Every puzzling sculpture and inscription represents a Manichean conflict between good and evil, reality and illusion, love and lust, and life and death in a way that requires an imaginative, intellectual response of his visitors.


A bear holding a rose.

This is a statue of a bear holding a rose. The bear is less significant when you look at it because it is holding this rose pedal. This is one of the most significant references to Vicino Orsini’s name in the Bomarzo garden as a result. In Italian, “orso translates to bear. Thus, Orsini means little bear, but as a whole, any reference to a bear in the garden is a direct, traditional reference to Orsini’s family name. While the rose, which is being supported by the bear, is an element of the Orsini coat of Arms. The combination of these two elements makes up one of the most important references to Vicino Orsini’s name.


The chapel built at the very end of the garden and subsequently one of the last things the visitor sees in the garden was dedicated to his first wife, Giulia Farnese, whom he was never faithful to during her life. This contributed to his guilt in life. The chapel stood almost isolated on high ground. For his wife, he chose to build a chapel that was in line with the architecture of the time. The detail of its decoration is very significant because it contains references to both the Orsini and Farnese family names. The stone ceiling contains roses,

which are based on the roses of the Orsini, as we now know, it was one of the primary ingredients to their family crest. The reference to the Farnese are the “fleurs-de-lys.

Since I’m not sure I answered the question of a sculpture being a reference to his wife Giulia, another sculpture that contains

references to his first wife is the giant statue. One possible interpretation of this statue is that of the story of Orlando, to which much of the garden contains references to this story. In this interpretation, Orlando is slaying a woodsman. Orlando was given God-like powers to save Christian Europe and he eventually fell in love with a woman named Angelica, only she did not return his love. As a result, he went mad, he tore off his clothes and began preying on hunters, proceeding to eat raw flesh.


One possible meaning of this Pegasus fountain is a parody to the traditional purpose of the

fountain in other gardens. The fountain of Pegasus, which is one of the emblems of the Farnese, looks at the muses in other gardens. This fountain is smaller, and sitting on decayed, volcanic rock. The most interesting interpretation of this garden to me was the references to both the Farnese and Orsini families. With this fountain, we see the Farnese Pegasus (their emblem) looking up at the Orsini castle on this hill. Thus, new money is looking up at old money. The Farnese family had new money while Orsini had old money, which subsequently was thought to be less prestigious. This paradox indicates Vicino’s disdain for Rome and the Farnese family wealth.


Raphael’s Painting, which possibly inspired the statue.

In the garden, bearing a basket of bread on her head, Ceres, sits midst tritons, young boys, and large vases, perhaps in a grouping inspired by a painting by Raphael. The painting does include pinecones, sheaves of wheat and golden apples. Ceres was patron goddess of Rome.

This statue looked as described. Through all the literature, it was easy to see the references in this statue. It looked much like the pictures, historical hypothesis of the statue seemed to line up with the features she has.

Demeter is the Goddess of the Harvest. She presides over grains and the fertility of the earth. She also supposedly ruled over the sanctity of marriage, the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death. She is one of the Twelve Olympians. She and her daughter were central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which predated the Olympian Pantheon. Her greatest gifts to humankind were agriculture, particularly cereals and the Mysteries, which give the initiate higher hopes in life and death. These gifts were so intimately connected in Demeter’s myths and mysteries. Her emblem is the poppy, a bright red flower that grows among the barley.

Demeter is a goddess seated upright, with a group of small insect-winged, fish-tailed sirens holding a boy upside down behind her head. The creatures in this work have bland, friendly expressions and they appear to be supporting a the boy in some kind of game rather than menacing him. Dolphins, emblems of friendliness and affection, swim around the goddess, and tiny children are clambering over ger shoulder and clinging to her arms as if she is their mother. She carries a vase on her head with leaves and plans in the manner of a goddess of the fertile earth.


I enjoyed this garden a lot. I enjoyed it because it is very different from any garden we have visited this semester. It’s unorthodox, and full of satire and parody. We are forced to think about the idea of a statue in the garden and its purpose in relation to other concepts and gardens at the time. It was different, compelling, and challenging to understand. It wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the other gardens, the sculptures were dirty and worn, broken and poorly preserved. There were bugs, uneven walking surfaces, and scary looking monsters.

They don’t call it the park of monsters for nothing! I think this is why I liked it so much. The garden, while littered with hidden meaning and deep concepts of life and death, love and lust and sanity, is practically meant for a child. It would be a child’s paradise. I liked looking at the paradoxical ideas and false symmetry that made this garden as notable as it is. It went against the grain of its time, it stood out because it was different. I like things that are different and foreign to societal norms. I like going against the grain and am proud of how different I am. I really connected on an emotional level with the idea of this garden and saw the appeal of it even through the dirt and grime and lack of “beauty” that other gardens from this time still contain today.

Click here to see the rest of my pictures from this illustrious monster garden.

One thought on “Bomarzo: Il Sacro Bosco

  1. You might enjoy the novel Signatures in Stone, by Linda Lappin, which investigates the symbolism of Bomarzo and the meaning of gardens in general

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