The Villa Lante Garden


The Villa Lante Garden was the project of Cardinal Gambara. Through some internet research, I discovered that Gambara had family ties with the Farnese. Cardinal Gian Francesco Gambara, was bishop of Viterbo in 1566-76; he had family bonds with the Farnese (his mother’s first husband was a Farnese) and with Cardinal Carlo Borromeo; on behalf of the Farnese he supervised the construction of their villa at Caprarola which was completed by il Vignola; it is thought that Cardinal Gambara asked il Vignola to design his villa at Bagnaia.

Villa Lante

Within the formal garden one side is the mirror image of the other as a celebration of symmetry, the laws of proportion and the counterpointing of circles and squares that Vignola had begun to explore at Caprarola. The twin miniature palaces replace the usual single palazzo.

Edith Wharton’s comments indicate that they are ‘part of a garden scheme and not dominating it’. The garden takes centre state. The woodland (boschetto), planted with fruit trees and untended fines depicts the Golden Age of humanity’s innocence and Nature’s fertility.


The boschetto represents the Golden Age of innocence and Nature’s abundance. The garden charts the story of the consequences of original sin. Man has lost his innocence. Nature no longer produces freely, and man must live by the cultivation of his garden and his intellect, guided and inspired by the Muses as patrons of the arts and sciences. To that end, the garden honors man’s endeavors to feed his body and nourish his soul.


The allegory is taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which he described a time ‘when men of their own accord did what was right… The earth itself, untouched by the hoe, produced all things spontaneously’.

This theme is represented in fountains with icons of ducks and acorns which symbolize natural abundance, and the unicorn and dragon. which I believe stand for purity. The most important fountain, though, is Pegasus, which is surrounded by herms of the nine muses identifying the boscehtto as Parnassus, home of the Muses. This idea was borrowed from the Oval Fountain of Pegasus at Villa d’Este.

The mythological concept of the twin peaks of Mount Parnassus and its sacred spring, home of the Muses, dominates the hillside. Two palazzini, echoing the peaks, prominently frame a long water chain inside the formal garden, and outside, in the boschetto, is a large pool with Pegasus surrounded by the nine Muses.  It seems that these two halves make up the whole, and this duality is repeated throughout the garden.


The fountains were built with peperino, a volcanic stone which tends to darken when wet; the design of Fontana dei Delfini reflects the fashion of the time for a very rich decoration in an elaborate and symmetrical frame.

Cardinal Gambara and his friends were familiar with the poems of Virgil and Horace, which chanted the murmur of brooks, but in the overall metaphorical context of the gardens the brook was contained by very elaborate banks. The shrimp which appears in the coat of arms of the cardinal and in many fountains is a reference to the cardinal’s surname; in It. gambero means shrimp. The great cardinal used this as his signature insignia throughout the garden.


The third nature refers to that of a formal garden. The transition is reversed in the foreground – garden, regularly planted trees, waste ground. Gardens are usually  contiguous with second nature influence such as the natural water flowing or the placement of shrubbery to emulate authentic nature — but sometimes they have been created directly from first nature. According to John Dixon Hunt, gardens have tended to represent within their own areas aspects of the three natures. Gardens are a third nature, a place where art and thought are in relationship with nature. This is the meaning of the third nature.

Check out the rest of the photos from Villa Lante here.

One thought on “The Villa Lante Garden

  1. Pingback: PHOTO TIME: The Villa Lante Garden in Bagnaia | There's More to Life Then Massachusetts.

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