Renaissance was a time of marvel not only for art and architecture but also for the gardens which defined the promising beauty of a place. Europe emerged from a period of darkness into the renaissance era to introduce new innovative and progressive elements to the people’s lives.
Gardens were designed and created to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the landscapes. With the renaissance’s emergence, new garden styles and designs were introduced. These were different from medieval gardens. They didn’t shy away from being expanded outward, including the surrounding landscapes as a part of their designs. These gardens were the definition and symbol of harmony, unity, and aesthetics, complimenting nature.
Italian Renaissance Gardens: a Fascination
Renaissance gardens were established in Europe by the late fifteenth century with a new garden concept in mind. Compared to the classical gardens before, this one was created using a formal and geometric approach with heavily decorated ornamental patterns. The rise of these splendid gardens was candy to the eyes of the spectators. Further, it was believed to enhance the prestige of the people in power. The aim was to create an extraordinary place that blends fantasy and reality and makes an everlasting impression. Most of the inspiration for the Italian renaissance gardens was classical mythology, Italian art, and literary resources. The grandeur of these gardens can still be witnessed through the paintings of that time, adorned with pergolas, water mazes, sculptures, and detailed topiaries.
Elements of Renaissance Gardens
The various elements included in the design of these gardens are essential when discussing renaissance gardens. Even today, these details and features define the finesse of these gardens and make them stand out in their beauty and admiration from others.
Axially Symmetrical Designs
The catchy element of renaissance gardens is that they were curated along an axis. This axis stays between the start of a building, such as a villa, to where the garden ends. This element, where the garden can be procured as a complete mirror image, adds definition to the whole design and escalates its overall look. The result is a grid pattern of sorts, like a square with perpendicular spaces called pathways that runs along this axis. A low fence bordered these spaces.
Coherent and Flawless Design
The gardens during the renaissance were treated as an extension of the villas. These villas were built considering gardens as outdoor rooms and blended with nature. The villas were extended outdoors by posing terraces and courtyards as outdoor spaces while drawing gardens to bring them to the interiors.
Green is a Dominating Color
With the inclusion of elaborate topiaries and other ornamental details, renaissance gardens were keen on showcasing green as the centre of attention. These spectacular topiaries were made into sculptures by continuously growing and using boxwood, Italian cypress, junipers, and rosemary. Renaissance gardens used these topiaries to symbolise order and harmony in nature.
It is essential to acknowledge the detailed elements that complete the Italian renaissance gardens. These extra but prominent elements include sculptures and water features of these gardens. The statues and sculptures were mainly of Roman gods and goddesses. Water as a feature became necessary due to the hot climate of Italy, and it was implemented in the form of fountains and ponds to add an extra touch of magic to the gardens.
Examples of Italian Renaissance Gardens
The foundation for the Italian renaissance gardens was mainly formed in Florence and Rome. These gardens were considered the epicentre of a way to relax, entertain, and retreat. Renaissance gardens were also pioneers in increasing the study of botany during this time with the study of exotic plants.
Villa Medici in Fiesole is one of the most notable and oldest examples of Italian renaissance gardens. Settled in Florence, this renaissance garden is one of the first villas built on the hillside with terrace gardens overlooking the bustling city. Another famous example of a garden extended from a villa and located on the hillside is the Villa d’Este in Tivoli. This particular example was well known for its extensive water features with over 51 fountains and 64 waterfalls, along with ponds and water jets. Many Italian renaissance gardens still look magnificent and stand popular because of their fame and beauty. Some examples are Sacro Bosco, the garden that started the trend of a renaissance garden with no axial symmetry, and Villa Borghese, the third largest public park in Italy.
French Renaissance Gardens
With the rise of Italian renaissance gardens, progress was introduced and shifted to many European countries, including France. However, French renaissance gardens were different as they had an increased perspective and space conception in their designs, but the main elements were the same. The first ever French renaissance garden is considered to be the Domain Royal de Chateau-Gaillard. Inspired by the Italian renaissance gardens, King Charles VIII bought Italian artists to build this garden. Another notable French renaissance garden is the Palace of Versailles.
English Renaissance Gardens
The late 15th century witnessed the rise of the English renaissance gardens, which were slightly different from the Italian and French. English gardens were created as a connection between the homes and the gardens, including knot gardens, ornamental plants, and mounts. Apart from their aim of providing relaxation and retreatment, these gardens were the embodiment of wealth. The best example to understand the English renaissance garden and its features is Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden.
Renaissance Gardens and Modern Landscape Designs
It is clear that over the years, Italy has immensely influenced other countries and generations to take inspiration from their gardens to make their own. Their skilful design and attention to detail, along with the features of statues and use of water, not only establish its elegance but radiates amusement in the viewers. And the influence of renaissance gardens is seen in modern-day landscape designs. In recent years, landscape designers have proved that we owe the renaissance gardens for implementing those simple elements in the present day, creating a magnificent garden full of surprises.
It might be tricky to include all the features of renaissance gardens in today’s landscape, especially axial symmetry. Axial symmetry was added to create a garden of grand gestures, but in the 21st-century landscape, these are not essentially important. But today’s landscapes still achieve this by uniformly planting trees on both sides of the entrance to provide order and harmony. In addition to that, adding topiaries and different shapes to the garden has changed the landscape designs. A well-designed rectangle or square space in the garden always adds a touch of magic to the area. It is evident that water features and planting a variety of functional but beautiful flora enhances the landscape and looks similar to the renaissance gardens.
It can be said that renaissance gardens have influenced a great deal for future gardens since the 15th century. Gardens of today are not often magnificent as the renaissance gardens. However, it is still commendable that they possess elements that define them. The future might take a different turn and style for landscape design. Still, whatever the year might be, the influence from the past is always notable and inspiring.
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- Clem, T. (2020). Gardens of the World: Renaissance Gardens. [online] UNIVERSITY of FLORIDA. Available at: https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/alachuaco/2020/09/14/gardens-of-the-world-renaissance-gardens/ [Accessed 9 Dec. 2022].
- Organ, F. (2014). Bring a Touch of Renaissance Italy Into Your Garden. [online] houzz. Available at: https://www.houzz.com/magazine/bring-a-touch-of-renaissance-italy-into-your-garden-stsetivw-vs~3395991 9 [Accessed 9 Dec. 2022].