The Tuscany Gardens (Medici, Gamberaia, Boboli, and Piccolomini)

The Villa Medici Garden at Castello

Layout of the garden, specifically the first terrace.

The above sketch is a representation of the Villa Medici garden at Castello. From overhead, we can see the center fountain, what used to be the labyrinth (on the right side,) and how the actual building does not run the length of the garden. The reason for this is because the plans were changed at the last minute.

Duke Cosimo I, Grand Duke of the Medici family, loved this place. Though a cold, secretive, moody and ruthless despot, Cosimo I was a generous patron of the arts. Castello has spacious terraces and a central axis. The first terrace, almost an extension of the villa itself, has 16 beds square or rectangular with a large fountain in the center trough by Tribolo. Two greenhouses surround the sides of the second terrace known as the Garden of citrus . In spring all the terraces, the plants are placed outdoors. The extraordinary collection of about 500 plants potted citrus ornamental are old and rare.

The Features of the Grotto

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The Grotto of Animals could possibly commemorate Cosimo I’s love of hunting. It was built by Niccolo Tribolo, perhaps completed by Giorgio Vasari, drawing on the sculptures of Giambologna. The grotto entrance is by a portal flanked by two Tuscan columns, and is completely covered with calcareous concretions (called “sponge”). The ceiling of the first chamber and the second arc are colorful mosaics with geometric and figurative facts with pebbles and shells. The interior consists of a main room and a second smaller one. On each side, there is a marble basin surmounted by groups of animals carved in different stones, which make up a set of decorative polychrome. A complex hydraulic system feeds a series of jets that originate from animals or lie on the floor offer visitors the surprise of water games. In the middle of the cave is a statue of Orpheus, who in mythology charmed animals with music.

The first tank on the left is in white marble and is decorated with a beautiful composition of fish and other marine animals. Above it were placed the statues of the giraffe (reddish);  the rhino (gray); the bear (in red stone); the monkey;  a dog; a cat; a wolf about to devour a sheep; and a goat.

The second tank — the front door is red marble and represented on the elephant, unicorn, lion, goat, bull, and a few sheep.

The third tank, is white marble decorated with carved shells and is dominated by wild dark stone, the horse, the bull, the goat, the camel, the leopard (stylized as represented in the frescoes of the Renaissance), the moose, the deer, and the monkey.

The sculpture representing the Apennines

The sculpture of Apennines is representative of the wild and of winter. The wild meets the basin of the fountain square of January or the Apennines, which takes its name from the bronze statue in the center of a spongy rock. It was designed by Bartolomeo Ammannati (between 1563 and 1565 ). It depicts an old man who tries to escape the cold. Originally, though, a jet of water came from the head of the statue.

Palazzo Piccolomini (Pienza)

The small hanging garden that occupies the space on the south side of the building, is surrounded on three sides by high ivy-covered walls, while on the side facing the palace it is bordered by a loggia with three tiers of arches. A special drainage system prevents rainwater from seeping into the vaulted spaces below, in which the stables were located.

Another example of the arches.

The rectangular flower-beds, surrounded by double, pruned box hedges, line two gravel paths that run at right angles to each other. A fountain stands at the point where these meet, and the four corners of each flower-bed have umbrella-shaped laurel trees. The various rectangular flower-beds along the boundary walls are decorated with fruit trees and flowering shrubs. A large octagonal well adorned with the crescent, keys and tiara of the Piccolomini coat of arms, and a fountain decorated with garlands of fruit are the garden’s two sculptural elements; they both date back to the late 15th century. The panoramic view over Val d’Orcia, which can be admired from the three arches in the rear wall, is of primary importance in the design of this garden, a place in which architecture and nature come beautifully together.

The iconography of Villa Medici at Castello

Another picture showing the plan of the Medici garden at Castello.

The plan at this garden is one of the first mannerist gardens depicting power and order. The Villa at Castello didn’t have its plans changed at the last minute but shows how artists portrayed what the owner wanted – and that was symmetry!  The plans were to extend the villa but this was probably not completely when Cosimo’s wife Eleonora di Toledo bought the Pitti Palace and that became the principal garden.The layout is a classical one, which has four distinct corners. It is a representation of power and order, and also control. Its as if everyone should be in favor of the Medici so that Florence could be ordered and controlled. The mannerist idea is the idea of moving through a space without actually knowing what’s there.

The Medici as rulers of Florence

Villa Petraia.

The Medici use their gardens to promote themselves as rulers of Florence by the layout and structure of their gardens. At Castello, the layout is clearly a classical one. Castello was the first Mannerist garden and the first to show the power of its owner Cosimo by the use of symbolism and sculpture. One that is of symmetry, order and control. The idea was that, as I said above, everyone should be in favor of the Medici rule. The Medici motto is to hasten and slowly.  The Medici used their gardens at Castello and Petraia to promote a feeling of hierarchy through order and control. The gardens are perfectly laid out, cleanly trimmed and built with purpose. It looks, even 500 years later, that nothing is ever out of place.

Palazzo Piccolomini is different from a medieval garden

The inner courtyard of Palazzo Piccolomini.

Palazzo Piccolomini is radically different from a Medeival garden because it has arches that lead through the garden and to different parts. The idea of arches makes it more of a renaissance garden. The palace is adorned with the coats of arms of the Podesta who once ruled the city. A very high medieval tower is incorporated into the palazzo. Close by is a Renaissance structure with six round arches, called La Loggia, which was started at the very end of the 14th century and finished in the early 15th, but which has undergone much restoration work over the subsequent centuries.

Comments & Impressions of the Boboli garden in Florence

Reflection on the water basin in Boboli.

I really enjoyed this garden the most for a couple of reasons. The first is because it is very beautiful  The sculptures and caves are built with a purpose and clearly identify with me in the garden. I seemed to understand this one the most because of the intricacies of the garden. I really enjoyed peering into the grotto, getting really close to the statues and looking at the water masses that reflects the scene even on a cloudy day.

I also liked the Fountain of Neptune sculpture at the center of this water basin because its a symbol of power and dominance over water. I feel that this helps give identity and purpose to the large garden. There is so much to see, so seeing this one sculpture helps give me a baseline to understand the garden. It was really easy to following along after looking at this. The “Fountain of the Fork” for Neptune’s trident) and the sculpture of Neptune by Stoldo Lorenzi is visible against the skyline as a visitor climbs the slope. At the top are the panoramic views of Florence, as painted by Camille Corot. Giulio Parigi laid out the long secondary axis at a right angle to the main one, which leads down through a series of terraces and water features, with the bouquets on either side. I thought this was interesting. It really grabbed my attention. Especially since it sprouted in so many different directions, which leads to the second reason I liked this garden. 

It is so spacious and so gigantic. Its easy to get lost in this garden and really experience every part of it. I could have spent all day here because there is so much to see and do and look at. It just seemed impossible for me to ever be bored at this garden. There are many different corners of the garden I could have gone too at any one moment and not been disappointed either. The idea of a spacious garden with walk-able paths, and even slopes is really appealing to me. I’ve even thought of incorporating this idea in my garden because of it. Overall, I this was my favorite garden in Florence. I would seriously recommend checking this garden out to anyone who travels to Florence. Totally worth it.

***See also, more pictures of all five gardens by clicking this link.***

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