Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

Gardens of Western Europe, 1600–1800

Garden Style and Form
Gardens held a central place in the history of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European art and architecture. Two distinct types of gardens developed during this period. In the seventeenth century, geometric layouts—defined as formal or Baroque gardens—were designed according to exact mathematical rules and strict symmetry and planted with artificially trimmed plants and trees. In the early eighteenth century, the desire to make gardens more “natural” resulted in the development of the landscape garden, based on irregular, undulating forms. Each garden type was the result of a different set of aesthetic values and philosophical ideas. What distinguished the Baroque garden from the earlier Renaissance garden tradition, even though it consisted largely of the same elements, was the concentration on dynamic spatial features and splendor. Typical is the Baroque garden’s enormous scale, complexity of composition, richness of ornamentation, and sweeping vistas. Many of these aspects are discernible in surviving Baroque gardens, including the Boboli Garden (Florence), Isola Bella (Como), Versailles (France), Hampton Court (England), Het Loo (The Netherlands), Herrenhausen (Germany), and Petrodvorets (Russia). The gardens of this era not only had an important representative purpose, but also became ideal meeting places, functioning as centers for a host of social activities, from open-air dining (29.90) with musical (64.101.1314) and theatrical performances, to sports and games (49.95.65; 17.190.27).

Natural Environment, Design, and Decoration
The design and decoration of the Baroque garden depended not only on the natural environment, ranging from sunny Italian hills to wet Dutch flatlands, but also on artistic and economic considerations. Moreover, seventeenth-century explorations of the world seas and subsequent advances in natural history and botanical sciences directly affected the appearance of gardens. By exhibiting exotic plants (tulips, orange trees) (64.101.131468.66), animals (2008.240a,b), shells, and stones imported from all four continents, veritable “theaters of the world” were created, as illustrated by Joseph Furttenbach (54.512.2) and Giovanni Battista Ferrari (67.828). The scientific and technological advancements of the age also were reflected in these gardens through the use of optical and mechanical devices. Painted perspectives, scenographic illusions, mirrors, and hydraulic machines, or automata (49.122), such as those invented by the Italian engineers Tommaso and Alessandro Francini at Saint-Germain-en-Laye (France) and by the French architect-engineers Salomon and Isaac de Caus for the gardens at Heidelberg and Wilton, England (27.66.2), greatly impressed and delighted the public. In addition, collections of antiquities and classical sculpture were much sought after to decorate the garden and lent importance to one’s residence. The presence of classical statues in northern European gardens—prominently displayed in two late-seventeenth century Dutch paintings depicting a princely estate near The Hague (64.65.2) and an imaginary park (50.55)—can be fully appreciated only by realizing that marble and statues had to be imported from France or Italy at great cost and effort. Borrowing themes from classical mythology and the Cycles of Nature and the Cosmos (Four Seasons or Elements) (; 64.93.2; 64.93.3; 64.93.4), such garden statues conveyed a deeper meaning, often centering on the glorification of the owner. Rare examples of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century garden sculpture—which, due to their exposure to wind and weather, seldom survived—are to be found in the Petrie Court, the Metropolitan Museum’s own indoor garden. These include terms (busts on pedestals) of Flora and Priapus (1990.53.1; 1990.53.2) by Bernini (1616), originally in the gardens of the Villa Borghese in Rome, as well as a series of allegorical figures and classical vases that formerly graced the gardens of eighteenth-century France.