Medici Gardens: From Making to Design

By Raffaella Fabiani Giannetto | Go to book overview

to foreign scholars, to whom we owe the first narratives on the history of Italian villas and gardens, produced toward the end of the nineteenth century. In fact, the fascination with Italian culture in general, and Renaissance art in particular, seems to have motivated the travels both of British citizens and of many Americans, who would arrange lengthy sojourns in Italy in an effort to shorten the cultural distance between the Old World and the New.1 And they were men and women of letters, art historians and critics, collectors of Quattrocento Italian art, and connoisseurs.

When traveling to Italy, most foreigners chose to reside in Florence, which was considered a ville toute anglaise, “the only Italian city with a strong British accent.”2 After all, the idea of Italy was inseparable from that of Tuscany, both because of the region’s own struggle for independence and because of the Tuscan language, that of the Divine Comedy, which many considered the most perfect form of Italian, and on which they predicated the country’s linguistic, and therefore political, unity.

After a prolonged stay at a hotel or pension, the foreigners were likely to rent or buy properties in the countryside, and in their new residences they tried to re-create the magic of an atmosphere they associated with an idea of Florence. But it was a timeless Florence, more literary than actual, which the English and the Americans constructed in their minds before the start of their journey. They projected a city crystallized in its medieval or early Renaissance image,3 to the shaping of which the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic had contributed. Thus, for instance, Francis Joseph Sloane, who bought the Villa Medici at Careggi in 1848, had it restored until 1857 to what he thought was the villa’s fifteenth-century appearance; in 1873 the Pre-Raphaelite associate John Roddam Spencer Stanhope purchased the Villa dello Strozzino (or Villa Nuti) at Bellosguardo, to the south of Florence, for which he painted large wood panels in a neo-Botticelli style and furnished with “rich brocaded hangings, fine needlework, mediaeval treasures in art and furniture.”4 In 1879 Frederick Stibbert started the restoration and extension of his family house, Villa Stibbert at Montughi, for the display of his ever-growing collection of works of art. The most stunning room was decorated in a neomedieval style to house his numerous old weapons and armor. In 1885 John Temple Leader purchased the medieval castle of Vincigliata, at Fiesole, and spent twelve years renovating it in accordance with the then popular “Gothic revival” style.

Things changed slightly toward the end of the century, when a few foreigners no longer limited themselves to investing in properties on the hilly outskirts of Florence, and to transforming them according to an earlier ideal,

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Medici Gardens: From Making to Design
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One- Medici Gardens 10
  • Chapter Two- From Work of Nature to Work of Art 88
  • Chapter Three- Writing the Garden in the Age of Humanism 99
  • Chapter Four- Practice and Theory 146
  • Conclusion 179
  • Appendix A- Letter by Galeazzo Maria Sforza 187
  • Appendix B- Metric Letter by Alessandro Braccesi 189
  • Notes 195
  • Bibliography 275
  • Photographic Acknowledgments 293
  • Index 295
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