How a garden can change your life. From Royal Academy to the Italian garden

Claude Monet, Nympheas (Waterlilies), 1914-15 Oil on canvas, 160.7 x 180.3 cm Portland Art Museum, Oregon. Museum Purchase: Helen Thurston Ayer Fund, 59.16 Photo (c) Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon
Claude Monet, Nympheas (Waterlilies), 1914-15 Oil on canvas, 160.7 x 180.3 cm Portland Art Museum, Oregon. Museum Purchase: Helen Thurston Ayer Fund, 59.16 Photo (c) Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon

The garden as a secret retreat. At the Royal Academy of Art continues the mesmerising exhibition Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse (until 20 April 2016), sponsored by BNY Mellon, Partner of the Royal Academy of Arts. Knowing how Brits love their garden, the exhibition proves extremely popular. There are amazing paintings by French, Germans, Spanish painters. Where are the Italians, though? Are we not the ones who invented the Italian Gardens, so famous even Prince Albert commissioned one for his beloved Victoria inside Kensington Gardens?

We asked Mario Allodi, garden designer and professor of History of Gardening, and Judith Wade, manager at Grandi Giardini Italiani, the differences between the English and the Italian way of living the green life.

‘The gardening culture is very old in Italy, says Mario Allodi. ‘The garden is a space that links the home with the exterior world. The most interesting period in the culture of gardening is related to the formal garden, of which I would suggest three examples in Italy: Villa Cicogna Mozzoni a Bisuschio (Varese),  a Renaissance garden in Lombardy: great equilibrium, the space harmoniously divided into four parts, strong relationship between home-and-garden and the landscape.  The second one is Villa Lante at Bagnaia (Viterbo), the prototype of the formal garden, with water designing the space.  The third one is the garden at Stra (Venice), a formal garden with a maze’.

villa cicogna mozzoni

Villa Cicogna Mozzoni in Varese (Lombardy)

‘The garden has also been well represented in art, from ‘Decameron’ by Boccaccio, to The Annunciazione by Pinturicchio and many paintings by Piero Della Francesca or many artist from Lombardy that represented the beautiful manors with their gardens, like Villa Melzi at Bellagio, Villa Carlotta at Cadenabbia’.

No doubt the Brits love their gardening much more than the Italians.
‘The Italians love to be pioneers, but then they let it go. The formal garden has been exported all over Europe and has become a model, but we have not been able to appreciate its value. To appreciate a garden fully it’s necessary to have cultural instruments that the Italians don’t care about. Generally in Italy our great cultural heritage is underestimated’.
The Brits mow their lawn for aesthetic reasons and because they have a garden culture, in Italy we cut the grass according to more practical needs, linked to agriculture. We are different also when we choose our plants: in Italy we do not choose a plant because it’s the right one according to the place we have to decorate, while in Britain plants are chosen according to their natural provenance’.

What is the difference between the Italian Renaissance garden and the English landscape garden?
‘They are definitely two different concepts of space’, says Judith Wade, manager of Grandi Giardini Italiani, a Scot by birth who now leaves in Italy. ‘The Italian Renaissance Garden is inspired by classical ideals of order and beauty. It is grander and more symmetrical, filled with fountains, statues and other features, designed to delight their owners and amuse and impress visitors. A great example is Villa d’Este in Tivoli, near Rome, conceived by Pirro Ligorio, the architect who created the garden as a theatrical scenography for the Pope or the Prince’s parties. The English landscape garden, in fashion in England in the early 18th century, is based on an idealized view of the nature. The structure is still artificial but with a picturesque sense of the space. The most important creator of the English garden is William Kent, who took inspiration from the Italian Grand Tour, where people used to admire Roman ruins and landscapes, and reproduced these views in the gardens’.

Is there a bond between the Italian and the English garden?
‘Yes, absolutely. The real Made in Italy in the 16th century was not the fashion, but the garden design. Most of the English garden designers used to travel to Italy to find inspiration and reproduce the Italian style abroad. However, the English garden has deeply influenced the Italian parks. The first English landscape garden in Italy has been made in Cinisello Balsamo by Ercole Silva on the early 19th century.

How does the garden change in the Modern Age?
From the 19th century there is a change in the garden’s commissioners. The aristocracy is done, and the rise of the middle class in all Europe changed completely the way to conceive the garden. For the aristocratic owner the garden is a status symbol of his power, for the new-born middle class, the garden is seen as a “time out”, a small and private slice of paradise from the chaotic life of the new industrialized cities’.















gardengrandi giardini italianigreenjudith wadelandscapemonet

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