With singular specificity in regard to the theme of villas and palazzi, The theatre of nature in town and country provides a rare opportunity to evaluate the great phases in garden history: the hortus conclusus or monastery and city garden, the locus amoenus or humanist place of delight, the baroque theatre of nature and spectacle, landscapism, modernism and the contemporary scene. The garden is a secret space of nature that opens itself up to the infinite variations of culture, of fashion, of botanical experimentation, in the backlighting of an opulent and cultivated society that maintains standards of quality even after the transition from the complex but unitary aristocratic management of the villa landscape to the more multifacetted and heterogeneous bourgeois management caused profound changes to the territory. Against this background national and international influences weave a close web of gardens, exuberant with waters, natural and artificial features, atmospheric sensibilities, botanical curiosities. That they may be adapted to individual topographical contexts, to changes of ownership and to celebratory instances of ennoblement, they are modelled and remodelled by merchant patrons who often hold diplomatic or political office in Tuscany, Rome or elsewhere in Europe, coming into contact with architects, gardeners, hydraulic experts, scenographers and artists. The work-site of the city walls of Lucca, which went on for more than a century, turned out to be an epicentre of irradiation for constructional and other techniques. Control of perspective, shifting of earth, cutting of clearings and planting of trees are the elements common to military engineering and gardening, as is shown for example by the central role played by the military architect Muzio Oddi in the layout of at least two important baroque ‘theatres’: the Cenami Mansi one at Segromigno and the Garzoni one at Collodi. And while the sense of theatre feeds the entire life of the garden as chosen place for the mise-en-scène of nature, the baroque paradises (such as the Santini garden at Camigliano, the Orsetti garden at Marlia, the Garzoni garden at Collodi) represent a genuine crucible of signs and symbols, of perspective inventions, of complex hydraulic devices, of sophisticated floral selections. Grottoes and green theatres (the first place being occupied by Marlia) provide a number of spectacular variations, in many cases expressing an arcane and hermetic culture which reflects the religious disquiet that was widespread in the sixteenthcentury Lucchesia. In Lucca as elsewhere the garden universe changed between the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth century. A number of factors helped to transmit the more innovatory influences of sensiblerie for nature, from the early diffusion of Enlightenment culture through the Lucchese edition of the Encyclopédie and the active participation of Ottaviano Diodati, to the construction of the anamorphic garden of Collodi, and the circulation of Delille’s poem in the Italian translation by Martelli Leonardi; lastly there was the introduction of the landscaping model with the Napoleonic intervention at Marlia. From here the formal garden indulges in emotional wanderings that abandon geometrical control of vision in favour of diminishing the space between copses, lakes and winding avenues, introducing picturesque effects and an intriguing interplay between light and shade. The development of the Lucchese garden opens up new horizons for the culture of the Modern, with the return of geometry and of rule, art déco and Hispano-Moresque influences, as in the green rooms of Gréber’s twentieth-century park at Marlia and, lastly, the interventions of Porcinai at the villas of Duca, Buitoni and Piselli Lesa, at the subtle and sensitive border between tradition and innovation.
A study such as the present one offers an important theme for reflection, that of the perception of the garden as a palimpsest in continual biological, anthropological and cultural transformation: the relationship between the garden and the spectator, the manner of interrogating it through heterogeneous documents, the complex relational values linked to the various levels of reading the phenomenon and its image. In this sense the garden becomes a physical phenomenon, an incessant interplay of elements, in a word it reifies itself through the narratives of the travellers who seize the passing moment and fix it in the specificity of the hic et nunc, that is to say they idealise it in celebratory views or in the fabulous and poetic dimension. All this despite the passage of time, of ideologies and of epoch-making tornadoes, whether real or metaphorical. There come into play the instruments for studying the garden, which in this work inevitably cross over at several levels of synchronic and diachronic analysis, several voices that measure, imagine and narrate. Topographers and travellers, vedutisti and arcadians, theoreticians and practitioners interweave their narratives with various artificers of the project who appear on the Lucchese scene together with personalities of the calibre of Le Nôtre, Juvarra, André, Gréber, Porcinai… What powerfully emerges in the Lucchese identity is its organic relation with the rural landscape, a fertile countryside that seems to be an enormous garden. Thus it appears to the eyes of travellers who from the sixteenth to the twentieth century visit Lucca, from Montaigne to Martini to Sutton: agricultural land, cultivated with vines and olives alternating with copses with their bird-traps that reach as far as the enclosures of the villa gardens, secret places of utility and of delight. Exemplary is the symmetry between the seventeenth-century division of the country life (noted by Checchi of Villa Parensi at San Michele di Moriano) and the laborious and creative sense of an agriculture as ‘gardening’ that reverberates, at a distance of two centuries, in the words of James Fennimore Cooper, the American author famous for his Last of the Mohicans. Marking a limit but also a koinè between the city and the countryside, and more specifically between the urban gardens and the delights of the villas, are the city walls, in their bipolarism symbolic of the reassuring border of vegetation, rather than a threatening military presence. As narrated in this volume the history of the Lucchese garden finds an extraordinary organic quality both in its landscaping and in its historical dimension. An interplay of glances, of modes of living the pleasure of cultivation and of enjoying a mise-en-scène of nature that leaves lasting traces down to today. A system strongly cohesive with the landscape of the countryside that varies in time and with extreme slowness conserves models and styles of long duration.
Photographs by Luca Lupi
Characteristics: 296 page volume in elegant slip-case, printed by four-colour process on patinated opaque paper of 150 gr/mq, sewn binding, format 24 x 33 cm. Cloth cover stamped in gold, also on spine. Dust jacket printed by four-colour process on plastic-coated patinated paper of 200 gr/mq.
Images on endpapers printed by two-colour process