St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who developed the concept of natural theology: theology based on reason and experience. He brought Christian doctrine and Aristotelian logic into a syncretic intellectual system. By inquiring into the nature of nature he laid the foundations of the scientific revolution. But remember, he was not suggesting that nature was anything else but created by God.
|Villa d'Este, Tivoli|
|Villa di Castello, Florence|
Today, however, the gardens tend to be seen only in terms of beautiful statuary, fantastic water works, and large evergreen trees. This is far from the whole story, but to understand these gardens, it is essential to get into the Renaissance mind, which saw the world as hierarchical, but with each part interrelated.
This interaction was especially subtle and complex in the garden where art and nature were united into an indistinguishable whole. Together they produced something that is neither one nor the other and is created equally by both. Sadly, because the planting and perishable features have disappeared, many surviving Renaissance gardens have lost much of their original symbolism. But it is possible to ‘recreate’ them.
|Villa Garzoni - main axis & terraces (but a detached villa!)|
The garden was enclosed, with walls often covered with climbers and fruit trees. But the most important feature was the garden’s axial arrangement to the house – that is to say a main line ran from the main doorway in the centre of the house to the end of the garden; with areas to right and left of this line essentially mirror images.
|Villa d'Este cross axis - Walk of 100 Fountains|
|Planting at Villa Ambrogiana|
Each compartimenti was planted either with a single specimen, or mixed planting increase the flower season, and to show. By the 16th century and tied in with the Age of Discovery the obsession with collecting new plants was widespread. By displaying as large a range of plants as possible, it demonstrated one’s wealth, as well as, of course, displaying the diversity of God’s wonders.
Throughout the garden there were gazebos, pavilions, groves, grottoes, statues, sculptures and spectacular water features. Again this demonstrated Man’s inventiveness, and offered scope for a symbolic display of the owner’s power and wealth.