Garden and Grove: The Italian Renaissance Garden in the English Imagination, 1600-1750

Garden and Grove: The Italian Renaissance Garden in the English Imagination, 1600-1750

Garden and Grove: The Italian Renaissance Garden in the English Imagination, 1600-1750

Garden and Grove: The Italian Renaissance Garden in the English Imagination, 1600-1750


Garden and Grove is a pioneering study of the English fascination with Italian Renaissance gardens. John Dixon Hunt studies reactions of English visitors in their journals and travel books to the exciting world of Italian gardens: its links with classical villas, with Virgil and farming, with Ovid and metamorphosis, its association with theater, its variety, its staged debates between art and nature. Then he looks at what English visitors made of these Italian garden experiences upon their return home and at how they created Italianate gardens on their estates, on their stages, and in their poems.

With a wealth of literary and visual materials previously untapped, Hunt provides a new history of an intriguing and vital phase of English garden history. Not only does he suggest the centrality of the garden as a focus for many social, aesthetic, political, and philosophical ideas but he argues that the so-called English landscape garden before "Capability" Brown, in the late eighteenth century, owed much to a long and continuing emulation of Italian Renaissance models.


Much has happened in garden history since Garden and Grove was first published ten years ago in 1986. Our knowledge of garden sites and garden archives has taken huge strides, and as a result we now move to and fro across this field of study with more assurance and also with many more, as well as with more intricate, demands. Yet if our agenda for study has been augmented, its initial list of topics has surprisingly been confirmed: garden history has established itself as a unique and efficient, if small, addition to our perspectives on the past. Garden and Grove, I like to think, contributed to that a variety of ways.

In the first place it never was simply 'a book about gardens". It argued for the creation of gardens as being part of a wider cultural experience. If they were studied in that way, then garden history could open the doors to a much richer understanding of culture to which it uniquely possesses the key. For alone among the arts, garden-making involves what is conversationally called 'nature", the materials of the organic world. and it therefore mirrors a fuller spectrum of human interests. But gardens do more than reflect -- like cultural landscapes but with more concentrated focus, they are sites where human beings discover and realize whole patterns of belief, authority, and social structure.

Second, if gardens reveal the mentality of the creators, designers, and societies that produce them, then it follows that their historians must track the roots of garden theory and practice into many human concerns and corners that are not necessarily labelled 'garden material". To listen properly to the various voices at work in garden-making and garden experience means drawing strategically upon many different disciplines, visual and verbal. It also requires that we read often between the lines; in the case of Garden and Grove this meant, among others, lines of travel writings and political observations. Often thoughtless or trivial remarks can be made to yield a harvest of tacit assumptions about gardens.

Third, if that assumption about the compilation of evidence and about the interpenetration of ideas, attitudes, and experiences in gardens implies new methods of enquiry and analysis, it opens up an even larger problem: the whole topic of garden historiography. the ambition of Garden and Grove was to redraft one chapter by wrenching . . .

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