1 The Tuscan villa gardens of the Medici, c. 1445-62
2 The garden as exterior architecture: Bramante and Raphael in Rome, 1500-20
3 The town garden or smaller garden of statuary and topiary, principally in Rome from the 1420s onwards
4 Gardens of iconographic narrative, featuring woodland or water: Vignola, Pirro Ligorio and others
5 The triumph of ornamental effect, 1550-1650
6 Palladio's villa-farms in the Veneto, 1540-80

7 The monumental garden, after about 1600

1 The Tuscan villa gardens of the Medici, c. 1445-62
Michelozzi Michelozzo (1396-1472) was employed by Cosimo de Medici in the 1440s and 1450s to remodel or rebuild several medieval fortified villas or fattorias in the vicinity of Florence. This was achieved in a spirit of villegiatura, or the cultural ideal of rural living, which had become desirable by the fourteenth century, as evinced by Boccaccio's setting of The Decameron in a villa outside the city, and Petrarch's Vita Solitaria, begun in 1346. The fourteen celebrated lunettes of Medici villas painted by Giusto Utens for alcoves in the banqueting hall of the Villa Artimino at Monte Albano--now in the Museo di Firenze Com'era--are dated to 1598/99, which represents a lapse of some 150 years since Michelozzo's work at the villas of Trebbio, Careggi and Cafaggiolo. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that the basic layout of these gardens remained unchanged during this period.

As depicted by Utens, the garden at Cafaggiolo, where Michelozzo worked in about 1450, is an enclosed space with six grassy compartments bounded by low fences wreathed in what could be flowering shrubs, herbs or roses (all were used at this time). A pair of vine covered pergolas or arbours are contained within this symmetrical design, which is in many ways reminiscent of the medieval hortus conclusus: a small garden of herbs and flowers in hedged compartments, usually next to or near a house in town.

A rural, productive enclosed garden on this theme was known as an orto in medieval agricultural literature. During the course of the fifteenth century, private spaces such as these evolved into the more formally, ornamentally and geometrically ordered giardino segreto, or secret garden--an intimate space that was often retained in some form in even the grandest or most innovative sixteenth- and seventeenth-century gardens. These medieval gardens of grassy compartments enclosed by trellis can also be seen as the precursors of the parterre gardens of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, by which time the pretence of productivity in such a garden had diminished considerably. It is likely that Islamic precedent, absorbed via Sicily and then southern Italy, was influential on such gardens, specifically in terms of the central placement of fountains in garden courts, the introduction of citrus groves, the cross-axis plan and the use of water rills and pavilions.

In more agrarian and utilitarian situations where there was no formalised hortus conclusus or giardino segreto, the enclosed productive gardens near the house, which were also laid out in hedged compartments or as grids of orchard trees, fulfilled a dual ornamental productive role. The lesser-known lunettes in the Utens series illustrate the resilience of this older style of garden layout even into the seventeenth century: Villa Collesalvetti , for example, is modest and agricultural in style, with three fenced enclosures of diminishing size aligned laterally against the house, each containing fenced grass plats and trees at the corners. The gardens are not associated with the villa in any meaningful way; the difference at Cafaggiolo is that Michelozzo organised the ornamental-productive garden on an axis with the house, and in scale with it. Garden and building are inseparably linked; the distinction between agriculture and ornament is blurred.

Michelozzo's innovations in the Medici villa gardens were soon realised in more dramatic form at the new Villa Medici (1453-57), then known as Belcanto, on the steep hillside below Fiesole. Here, Giovanni de' Medici commissioned Michelozzo to design a small villa that was not at the centre of a working estate, like all the other villas surrounding Florence, but which would function principally as a retreat. Michelozzo's design was structurally innovative, in that he abandoned the model of the fortified farmhouse; incorporated a loggia with vistas towards the city, inspired by vernacular farmhouse design; and designed monumental terraces and a giardino segreto in proportion with the house. But it was the conceptual aspect of the design that was to be most influential: for the first time, a villa in the countryside had been built solely for healthful pleasure and learned discourse. Certainly, there were productive gardens on the main terraces at the Fiesole villa, but this was toy agriculture: given the steepness and stoniness of the surrounding terrain, farming was impossible--indeed, Vasari marvelled at the way Michelozzo had managed to construct a villa at all on this unpropitious site.

Giovanni had chosen this setting because of its superb views over Florence, and in this he was perhaps responding to Alberti's injunction in De re aedifactoria (published in 1486 but possibly written as early as 1450) that the villa should occupy an 'elevated and commanding' position, with views over the city. Another aspect of Alberti's advice on villa construction that is rather overlooked is his emphasis on the villa as a venue for entertaining and impressing guests. While Alberti mentions the need for a prospective view on a couple of occasions in his text, he repeatedly stresses the desirability of a festive atmosphere:

'A place close to a town, with clear roads and pleasant surroundings, will be popular. A building here will be most attractive, if it presents a cheerful overall appearance to anyone leaving the city, as if to attract and expect visitors. I would therefore make it slightly elevated; and I would make the road leading up to it rise so gently that visitors do not realise how high they have climbed until they have a view over the countryside. Meadows full of flowers, sunny lawns, cool and shady groves, limpid springs, streams, and pools, and whatever else we have described as being essential to a villa --none of these should be missing, for their delight as much as their utility'.

Alberti is imagining the garden of a suburban hortus as an amenity version of the countryside, although he also goes on to suggest it should be ornamented with shell and tufa grottoes, box-hedged walks, topiary in circles and other geometric shapes, vine-clad pergolas with Corinthian marble columns, amphorae around fountains and groups of trees in quincunxes. Medicinal herbs are still deemed desirable, but flowers are not mentioned. The emphasis in gardens is moving slowly away from the sensual pleasure of plants and trees and towards a more intellectualised sphere of ornamental features and symbolic iconography.

Pliny the Younger's celebrated letters concerning two of his four country villas were influential on both Alberti and villa makers from the fourteenth century to the present day and--architectural particulars aside--his description of the sunny seaside Laurentium villa in particular seems to anticipate the modern holiday brochure in its cheery tour of the villa's facilities, stressing the effortless interchange between indoors and out. Of the milieu of his Tuscan villa, deep in the forest, Pliny writes simply, Regionis forma pulcherrima ('The countryside is beautiful'). It is this mixture of rural appreciation and mild hedonism in Pliny that appears to have influenced Tuscan villa makers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, rather than any attempt at realising in speculative architecture the forms and luxurious detail of Pliny's villas.

Other classical authorities were invoked, although again in the mid-fifteenth-century Tuscan milieu it was the agricultural interests of Varro, Cyrus, Diocletian, Cicero and Seneca, and the pastoral spirit of Virgil, that prevailed (Cosimo de' Medici owned one of the few copies of Varro's De Re Rustica). The fantastical, nymph-filled world of Ovid and the Metamorphoses was to inspire the makers of the narrative iconographic gardens of a century later. For now, it was a leisured form of agriculture that appealed. Writing in the 1550s and looking back at the time of Cosimo and Lorenzo de' Medici, Anion Francesco Doni observed:

'Both the gentleman and the writer are able to take delight in making fine grafts, in planting good fruits, or in making some sort of small ornamental garden, with no more effort, however, than should start a sweat, otherwise he will be a complete peasant.'

Cosimo's biographer Vespasiano de' Bisticci observed that the Duke seemed to know of every graft on every vine on all of his estates

In the 1470s Lorenzo de' Medici engaged Giuliano da Sangallo to remodel the house and garden at the Villa Poggio a Caiano, near Florence, on a grander scale and with greater richness of ornamental detail than had been attempted in previous Medici villas. It is difficult to know what this comprised precisely, but perhaps we might find clues in the contemporary writings of Francesco di Giorgio Martini of Siena--whose treatise on architecture of c. 1482 recommends a formal ground-plan with straight paths, fountains, glades, lawns, loggias, labyrinths and temples--and in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499) of Francesco Colonna, wherein the surreal gardens of the isle of Cythera contain numberless rare trees and plants, as well as all manner of outlandish, classically conceived decorative structures and fountains

In a passage in his 'autobiography' (the commentary to his poems written in the 1470s or 1480s), Lorenzo reports a friend's advice that he repair to his countryside villa immediately, because le ninfe, li uomini e tutti li animali sentono al presente piu le forze amorose ('nymphs, people and animals alike are at this season filled with the force of love'). This idea of the countryside as a lusty, mythic pastoral fantasy, in the spirit of Ovid and the nymph-adorned Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, was to become the basis for the iconography and spirit of ornamental gardens in the next century.

2 The garden as exterior architecture: Bramante and Raphael in Rome, 1500-20
The architectural legacy of the ancient world was the inspiration for the next major strand in Italian garden design. In his conception for the cortile (1504) linking the small Belvedere Palace with the new papal palace of the Vatican, downhill and at a slight angle, Bramante created a monumental, classicised urban courtyard, some 300 metres long by 100 metres wide. Three terraces--a version of a hippodrome on the lowest level, then an intermediary platform with a nymphaeum, and an upper terrace of citrus trees and statuary--were enclosed by loggias on both sides, the rising perspective of the whole culminating in the focal point of a monumental staircase and triumphal arch.

Bramante's design was essentially an architectural conception that happened to be open to the sky. But in its scale, use of perspective tricks and the prestige of the example, it legitimised a new attitude to gardens in which the spatial presence of exterior spaces began to be considered as integral to an architectural plan. Raphael's unfinished and subsequently ravaged Villa Madama (1518-20), on an eminence just north of Rome, elaborated on this new, architectural reading of exterior spaces, with a bold and original tripartite plan based on a circle (entrance courtyard), a square (inner courtyard) and a square with semi-circles at each end (an amphitheatre). The magnificent garden loggia, which survives, emphasises the importance of the correlation between interior and exterior in this plan, while the monumental lateral terraces are reminiscent of the Villa Medici at Fiesole.

Giulio Romano, who took over at the Villa Madama after Raphael's death, created gardens in a similar architectural spirit to complement the Palazzo del Te in Mantua (1525-35)--a parterre, an exedra, a grotto with bronze statues--and it is possible that Baldassare Peruzzi contributed gardens in similar vein at the Villa Farnesina in Rome (1508-11). Perhaps the most sophisticated essay in this mode was the Villa Giulia in Rome (1550-55), where the multi-level nymphaeum by Bartolomeo Ammannati (in collaboration with Vignola) has as its climax a caryatid arrangement, with fountain and grotto niches on the lowest, subterranean level." Almost all of this decoration has disappeared, but in the mid seventeenth century Jean-Jacques Boissard described it thus:

'The floor is made of chalcedony, alabaster, porphyry, ophite and simetite ... From the grottoes, with their skilfully constructed vaults, a large quantity of limpid water gushes forth ... There are naked putti sitting on dolphins. Here and there are disposed naiads and leaping satyrs. There are statues of Bacchus, Apollo, Diana, Pallas, Hebe, Hercules, Vesta, Venus, Mars, Antinous, Mercury, Vertumnus, naked shepherds, Curetes, Maenads and countless other ancient figures, without including the splendid inscriptions and precious marble with which the walls are encrusted'.

3 The town garden or smaller garden of statuary and topiary, principally in Rome from the 1420s onwards
The urban sculpture garden, a version of the Roman antiquarium (a building for displaying statues), which must have influenced Ammannati's design for Villa Giulia, appears to be an important aspect of Italian garden design in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It emanated from Rome. By 1427 Poggio Bracciolini, the Florentine chancellor in Rome, had begun a collection of Roman busts and marble fragments for display in his garden at Terranuova, and Cardinal Prospero Colonna had created a statuary garden by the 1440s.

In the 1480s the Quirinal was the setting for numerous vineyards and sculpture gardens, including that of Pomponius Laetus, which also served as a Platonic academy, and that of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, who was advised by Pirro Ligorio in his collecting. Michelangelo's exposure to the sculpture garden in the Medici casino at San Marco, Florence, is well known, and in Rome his Porta Pia was conceived as the entrance to the exclusive realm of sculpture gardens and vineyards on the Quirinal.

In Florence, sculpture set the tone in the courts of the Palazzo Medici by Michelozzo (early 1450s). This is exemplified in Donatello's bronze David-set in the garden of the lesser known of the two Palazzo-Corsini (on via del Prato). It retains a monumental avenue flanked by marble statuary, laid out by Gherardo Silvani after 1621. The town garden appears to have been conceived and retained in a self-consciously antiquarian spirit, as a repository for sculptural fragments and also as avenue for urban entertainments.

4 Gardens of iconographic narrative, featuring woodland or water: Vignola, Pirro Ligorio and others
The architectural experiments of Bramante and Raphael, and the decorative fantasies of Colonna and others, conspired to create an atmosphere in which gardens began to be conceived as iconographic narratives. Perhaps the earliest essay in such a treatment was at the Villa Medici at Castello, where in 1537 Cosimo de'Medici commisioned Niccolo Tribolo to lay out a garden at his boyhood home. The chronology of the garden's development is uncertain because it appears that much of Tribolo's design was unrealised at his death in 1550, and over the next twenty years Bernardo Buontalenti and Ammannati contributed to the design.

The garden was innovative in that heraldic motifs common to earlier gardens were reconceived in symbolic spirit in the form of fountain and statue groups, niches and grottoes, with most of the themes relating to the local topography and to the relationship of the Medicis (and mankind in general) with nature. The set-piece effects constituted autonomous episodes within an overall iconographic scheme, but there was no coherent narrative running through the garden. As a general rule in Tuscany, as opposed to farther south, the emphasis in gardens in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries remained essentially agricultural rather than architectural in tone (the main exception is the Boboli gardens).

A single narrative scheme was achieved at Villa Lante at Bagnaia, near Viterbo, perhaps the most important and pleasing italian garden of the sixteenth century, where from 1560 Cardinal Gambara oversaw the creation of a garden (attributed to Vignola) that was tightly aligned on a single axis on the hill above the small town of Bagnaia. The garden's iconography is based on the visual motif of the crayfish (gambero, a play on the cardinal's name) and predicated on the concept of water, which goes through a variety of states as it descends the garden's terraces, manipulated by nature and by man until it reaches idealised form in the water parterre on the lowest terrace.

In all its effortless mutability and unpredictability, and in the way it transforms what it touches and takes on the shape of its surroundings," water emerged as the perfect unifying metaphor for a new type of garden that was intended to inspire intellectual contemplation of the chaos of nature and mankind's marshalling of it, while also serving to create a sensual, physical link between consecutive episodes along a central axis. The need for flowing water naturally led to a preference for hillside, terraced sites, and an additional frisson was created through the idea of gardens that appeared to be (or actually were) hewn from the gnarled rock itself, which re-inforced the idea of the garden as emblematic simultaneously of the immediate topos and of mythic Parnassus.

At Villa Lante, this mountain concept is given expression in the rustic nymphaeum at the top of the hill, as the source of the garden's elemental spirit, and it is often repeated in other gardens and urban fountains (the Trevi, most famously). The festive and social aspect of the Villa Lante garden has perhaps been underestimated in favour of a symbolic interpretation. According to Alberti, it was essential that a garden was enjoyed by guests (rather than 'understood'). This hedonistic aspect of gardens, realised chiefly through fountains and water tricks, was to eclipse symbolic narrative in the latter part of the sixteenth century.

In addition, the siting of modest twin casinos (only one was built in the cardinal's lifetime) on each side of the central axis, in place of a villa as focal point, was a bold statement. Architecture was subordinate to landscape. If Bramante's Belvedere courtyard can be read as the first example of a Western garden design conceived in absolute unity with architecture, then Villa Lante might be seen as the pioneering example of a garden which architectonically defines all available space, subsuming the built features. As a result, the decorative incidents and water tricks begin to exist as focal points in their own right. Incident and detail transcend structure.

The sacred wood at Bomarzo, created by Vicino Orsino from 1548 to 1580, can also be placed in the context of the iconographic gardens of the mid sixteenth century. There is a mysterious symbolism contained in the many freakish creatures and forms hewn from the rock in the woodland. Nevertheless, the garden was clearly conceived as a multi-layered, accretive commentary on history (Roman and Etruscan), morality, self-knowledge, life and death and imagination, among other subjects. As at Lante, however, the importance of humour in the garden, and its role as a venue for parties and other activities, should not be overlooked in the mazy quest for meaning. As Giovanni Guerra's drawings of Bomarzo's features reveal, it probably contained more conventional decorative elements than its current state would lead us to suppose. Attention has focused recently on two other woodland gardens conceived in similar spirit: Villa Orsini at Pitigliano (c. 1557-80), with faux Etruscan tombs and benches on paths along a wooded valley edge (made by a kinsman of Orsino); and Villa Catena near Rome (begun in 1563), a woodland garden that appears to have been almost as strung-out as Bomarzo, structurally and psychologically.

5 The triumph of ornamental effect, 1550-1650
Villa d'Este at Tivoli is usually mentioned in the same breath as Lante, but here the change in emphasis from iconographic narrative to dramatic ornamental effect was decisive. Again, the owner's relationship with the surrounding topography is narrated episodically through fountains and other water effects. However, there are several strands to the story, and they are laterally arranged across the garden's terraces, rather than tightly associated with the central axis alone. In addition, the emphasis of the garden is much more firmly on spectacle, caprice, conceit and fantasy. Villa d'Este represents a dream world of water in which each surprising new episode trounces the last in its exciting, sensual immediacy. There is really no leisure or desire in the visitor for intellectual contemplation.

The great iconographic gardens of woodland and water described in the previous section served as inspiration for many gardens of the late sixteenth century, but, as at the Villa d'Este, narrative symbolism was largely superseded by a passion for water tricks and automata. Fountains, grottoes and statue groups may have had symbolic meaning, but the programme of ideas was conceived in a looser, more diverting way, and always in balance with the hedonistic expectations of owners and garden visitors. Villa d'Este has this atmosphere partly because so much was added in the 1570s. Pratolino in Tuscany, dating from 1579, represented the apogee of the craft of water trickery and automata and became the most celebrated garden of the period. The architectonic relationship between garden and house was not lost, and is if anything stronger in gardens such as the remarkable terraced Roman garden, the Orti Farnesiani (from 1576); Villa Mondragone at Frascati (1573-75), with vast terraces and a panoramic view; and Villas Petraia (1575) in Tuscany. In these gardens, the architectural bones and spaces of the garden are explicitly aligned and scaled in relation with the building.

6 Palladio's villa-farms in the Veneto, 1540-80
In the Veneto from the 1540s, Palladio formulated a unique rationale for landscape design tailored to his new kind of farm-villa that catered to the owner's residential, service and agricultural needs under one roof. The building was conceived as the centre of a working estate, and accordingly the ideal landscape setting was generally realised as grassy, sandy or gravelly yards, sometimes defined by barchesse, or twin service wings. The Villa Emo of 1559-65 is a good example; an enclosed kitchen garden; and agricultural fields or parcels of woodland in the surrounding area, traversed by roads. This relatively open setting allowed for unimpeded views from the villa across the demesne. Palladio stated in the Quattro Libri that 'gardens and orchards are the soul and pastime of the villa', but he also believed that the agricultural milieu should not be sullied by decorative intervention. In his practical inventory of farm assets, Palladio simply lists gardens together with granaries, storerooms, fishponds and dovecotes.

The notion of the garden as a mediation between the domestic and the agricultural or natural worlds was deemed inappropriate because Palladio's farm-villas celebrate the ideals of rural utility; the villa is essentially a farm building itself, and therefore deserves no garden. This is not to say that Palladio was unsophisticated in his treatment of the surroundings of his villas, and this is nowhere more true than at the Villa Rotonda (1565166-69), where the backdrop of Monte Berico and surrounding fields are used to scenographic effect. One exception to Palladio's minimalist approach is the Villa Barbaro (1549-58), with a nymphaeum set against the hillside behind the villa and so close to the building that it seems an open-air extension of it. It is possible, however, that Palladio's patrons may have instigated this feature.

7 The monumental garden, after about 1600
The final strand of garden-making in this period, marking the close of the sixteenth century, heralds what is usually described as the transition to baroque, which in the case of gardens is most convincingly marked by the creation of the Villa Aldobrandini at Frascati (from 1598). The spectacular entrance front was conceived as a complement to the villa's facade, and subordinate to it, rather than as an invention with its own narrative structure. Similarly, the principal vistas from the rear garden are tightly focused on the villa, while the water theatre directly opposite the south (rear) front, is almost a part of the building, in the manner of Palladio's Villa Barbaro. Here, the garden seems conceived as a single entity, rather than the sum of its discoverable parts, and the house has also forcibly returned as the focus of the garden scheme, visible from most areas of the garden as the culmination of several vistas.

In baroque architecture where the decoration of the building became inseparable from the structural design. So it was in seventeenth-century gardens (and particularly in French gardens) that flat pools of water or canals superseded grottoes and other structures, and decorative setpieces were secreted into bosquets rather than prominently sited along axes. The aim was to produce a decorous woodland fantasy world that did not impinge on the architectural integrity of the overall scheme, or compromise its grandeur through the unpredictability of water tricks. Fountains and water automata remained important, but contributed to an overall symbolic theme. Certain decorative elements that were previously conceived as stand-alone features with specific meanings (sculpture groups are the best example) become instead repetitive elements that have a cumulative effect. The grids of parterres that previously acted as the setting for symbolic episodes now become the decorative focus themselves, developing in ever more complex ways and frequently influenced by textile design.

Aldobrandini is a convenient marker, but the transition to baroque of Vaux-le-Vicomte or Versailles was achieved haltingly in Italian gardens, and was largely reflected back from foreign sources. Villa Belpoggio (after 1605), another Frascati garden, exemplifies this uneasy transition, in that although the flat parterre layout seems baroque in essence, details such as the vine-covered walkways (which obscure parts of the garden), the modest overall scale and the nature and number of fountains, can be identified more readily with gardens of the previous century.