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  Logic Path: Home Page >> The garden >> Il giardino di boboli

Il giardino di boboli

One of the foremost examples of an Italian-style garden, the Boboli is really an open-air museum, not only for its architecture and landscaping, but also because of the many sculptural ornaments it contains. Its creation and development spans four hundred years between the 15th and 19th centuries. The gardens laid out behind Santa Felicita in Oltrarno by the Borgolo family, the name from which Boboli is thought to derive, were bought in 1418 by Luca Pitti.

In the mid-15th century Pitti commissioned the construction of a grand palace, which is believed to have been designed by Luca Fancelli, with the help of his master Filippo Brunelleschi. In 1549 the property was bought by Cosimo I's wife Eleonora da Toledo, and became the Medici family's city residence. Niccolò Tribolo was engaged to design the gardens, and it is probably he who excavated the hill to create the Amphitheatre, a highly successful creation in both perspective and functional terms.

It created the garden's first perspective vista (running north-west/south-east), a prospect that began at the main entrance to the palace and continued across to the hill and all the way to Forte Belvedere. When Tribolo died, work continued under the direction of Bartolomeo Ammannati (1511-1592) and subsequently Bernardo Buontalenti (1555-1635). In the 17th century Giulio Parigi (1568-1635) and his son Alfonso devised the second perspective vista, which was to run at right angles to the first, in the direction of Porta Romana.

The triangular garden has two orthogonal axes which meet roughly at the Fountain-Basin of Neptune; the steeply sloping avenues run across the central walk and are organised as a series of terraces with smaller avenues, footpaths, sculptures or landscaping elements leading to specific garden features: glades, enclosed gardens or buildings. The visit begins at the fountain featuring the statue of a dwarf riding a tortoise, sculpted in 1560 by Valerio Cigoli (1529-1599). Opposite the entrance is the Buontalenti Grotto, a series of three communicating chambers: the first, with stuccowork decorations, is characterised by pastoral scenes executed by Bernardino Poccetti (1542-1612); the second contains a marble statue group depicting the abduction of Helen by Paris, sculpted by Vincenzo Rossi da Fiesole (1525-1587); the third, frescoed by Poccianti, has a fine fountain by Giambologna (1529-1608) depicting Venus emerging from the water after bathing.

Beyond the statues of the Dacian Prisoners, the route through the gardens continues and, next to the rising avenue, passes the Jupiter Garden with a seated statue of Jupiter and the adjoining Madama Garden. The avenue leads up to the grand Amphitheatre and the Artichoke Fountain, whose large octagonal basin is decorated with numerous statues and crowned by a bronze artichoke by Francesco Susini. The great horseshoe-shaped sweep of the amphitheatre was possibly originally conceived as a piece of landscaping, and in 1599 was embellished with steps (still in existence) topped by aedicules with niches containing bronze statues and terracotta urns.

The granite basin is taken from the Baths of Caracalla, while the obelisk, which arrived in Rome in 30 BC from Egypt, was brought to Boboli in 1790 by Pierre Léopold, who commissioned Gaspero Paoletti (1727-1813) to design a plinth adorned with bronze tortoises; it was erected at the centre of the amphitheatre in 1841. The main avenue leads to the Bacino di Nettuno reached by a dual ramp, at the beginning of which stand three Roman statues. The basin is dominated by the bronze statue of Neptune by Lorenzi (1534-1583): the ancient god of the sea stands on a rocky spur decorated with naiads and tritons, at the centre of a large fountain-basin surrounded by stepped turfed terraces, at the top of which, among holm-oaks, stands the colossal statue of Abundance, sculpted in around 1636 by Pietro Tacca.

Here, at the point where the ancient city walls once stood, the original garden came to an end. On a cavaliere, or rampart of the walls built by Michelangelo in 1529, stands the Giardino del Cavaliere, reached by a double staircase, at either side of which stand two statues of the Muses. The niches contain statues of Flora and Jupiter, early works by Giovanni Caccini. At the centre of the garden, which is bordered by low box hedges, stands a fountain with a central marble cherub. This ornamental work is known as the "monkey fountain" because of the three bronze primates at its base. Underneath the Casino del Cavaliere building is a large water storage area known as the "trout reservoir", from which the pipes that supply water to the entire garden lead off.

 To the east of the Amphitheatre, near the Statue of Abundance is the Kaffeehause, a Rococo-style pavilion by Zanobi del Rosso, with a characteristic glazed dome. This small building stands on a stepped lawn at the centre of which is the 17th-century Ganymede Fountain. The Kaffeehause can be considered to be the visual focal point of the park's second main thoroughfare, the steeply descending Viottolone. The beginning of this avenue is marked by two statues known as the "Greek Tyrannicides" and its route is lined on both sides by ancient statues, mainly Roman or 18th century. Three smaller avenues leading off at right angles from the Viottolone divide the garden, which has seen a number of changes over the centuries, including the laying out of the Labirinto, the maze which was destroyed in 1832 (except for the central basin) to make way for a new coach road.

The first side avenue consists of a pergola of holm-oaks with low stone seats at the sides; at the junction with the Viottolone are four marble statues by Giovanni Caccini: Prudence, Aesculapius, Autumn and Summer; the walk terminates on the right-hand side with the Fountain of Oceanus. The second branching alley ends at the city walls with a Bust of Jupiter (attributed to Giambologna), while the point where it crosses the Viottolone is marked by three Roman statues (the Senator, Bacchus and the Bald Philosopher) and one from the 18th century. Further down, the junction with the third side avenue has six statues: Aesculapius, Andromeda, a Nymph, Modesty and two groups with two peasant girls, known as the Gioco dello Scaccomazzone and the Gioco della Pentolaccia.

At the end of the Viottolone the steep perspective ends at the elliptical Vasca dell'Isola, constructed in Paris in 1618. 12-metre-high espaliers of ilex form the backdrop to numerous stone and marble statues with mythological, historical or popular themes, occupied almost entirely by a large basin connected to the ground by two walkways, entered through a wrought-iron gate. At the centre of the pool stands the Fountain of Oceanus, a copy of the original work by Giambologna.

It consists of a statue of Neptune over statues representing the Nile, the Ganges and the Euphrates pouring their waters into the Ocean, a pool of Elba granite, the base of which is embellished by bas-reliefs. Emerging from the water of the island are the marble groups of Perseus on horseback and of Andromeda, whose ankles are chained to the rock. In line with the main avenue are the Fountain of the Harpies and the Fountain of the Putti. The Viottolone - after a division by a side avenue with four ancient statues of Serapis, Jupiter, a Male God and the Emperor Claudius - leads to the hemicyclical Prato delle Colonne, a lawn surrounded by a tall hedge with twelve niches containing large busts and with two red granite columns at the centre supporting marble vases.

The Porta Romana gateway stands in an open space containing various stone groups. The Fontana della Botticella near the iron gate is a fountain with a statue of a peasant pouring water from a small barrel, on a Roman sarcophagus base. On the path alongside the boundary wall towards Via Romana and leading back up to Palazzo Pitti is a series of statues running up to the Limonaia, a hothouse that is a remodelling of an earlier building erected in 1785 by Zanobi del Rosso. Near the large gateway on Via Romana is the Palazzina d'Annalena, a small neo-classical building by Cacialli.

The Meridiana (or Sun-Dial) building next to Palazzo Pitti is a Neoclassical work by Gaspare Maria Paoletti (1778) and Pasquale Poccianti. The Prato della Meridiana in front of this building is a large, steeply-sloping lawn, from which smaller avenues dotted with statues lead off.

Related links: Water Fountain of the Tortoises
(by garden-fountains.com)


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