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Italian Villas II







Villa Giulia



Superb example of courtyards and gardens modeled after imperial villas of classical times.

The location of the Villa Giulia is in a valley along the river Tiber. The villa property included all of the immediate surroundings, primarily vineyards. The property also included some land along the river Tiber on which a new port was built enabling the pope (Julius III) to travel directly to the Vatican Palace in a flower decked boat. A pergola and gate marked the entrance at the river.

Many famous designers of the period had a hand in the Villa Giulia. The original plan is attributed to Giorgio Vasari with Michelangelo acting as advisor. Vignola and Ammannati also worked at the Villa Giulia.

The villa sequence is a series of spaces that blur the distinction of inside to outside. The surrounding land was planted with more than 36,000 trees of different types which after time would be seen over the walls of the interior villa organization. The main building of the villa is complemented by a series of garden courts.

The primary pieces of the villa organization are arranged symmetrically along a central axis, with the scale of the elements growing smaller as the procession away from the house. Also, as one moves away from the house the inclusion of vegetation increases.

Although the garden courts are visually linked by the central axis, the physical organization of the path does not allow one to move down the axis. To proceed through the villa one has to move from side to side, and up or down.

Villa sequence — main building — semicircular colonnade — Nymphaeum — garden courtyard with a garden niche terminating the axis.


Garden courtyard with niche





Villa Lante



Begun in 1566 as a summer residence for cardinal Gambera, who was Bishop of Viterbo, was completed by Cardinal Montalto who succeeded him. It passed later to the Lante family.

“The gardens of Villa Lante are almost universally recognized as the supreme creation of the garden art of the Italian Renaissance.” Sacheverell Sitwell has written of them; “And were I to choose the most lovely place of the physical beauty of nature in all Italy or all the world that I have seen with my own eyes, I would name the gardens of the Villa Lante at Bagnaia.”

The Villa Lante was located in an enclosed hunting park on the edge of the town of Bagnaia. Prior to the Villa Lante the park contained a hunting lodge for banquets. The designer of the Villa Lante was probably Vignola, who was also working on the Villa Farnese at Caprarola nearby. The Lante family gained possession of the property in 1656.

The organization of the Villa Lante is composed of two primary components — the parterre garden, and the barchetto which are tied together by the perimeter enclosure. The barchetto is organized and linked together by loosely placed points as visual connections. The parterre garden is a terraced sequence of spaces organized along a single axis.

One description of the landscape is:

A “Stylized interpretation of a natural phenomenon – the course of a river which rises in high land, as an impetuous streamlet, passes through cascades and waterfalls, some more peaceful stages, and finally pours its waters into a sea or lake.”

Another interpretation ties the Villa Lante to another reference about the celebration of the power of control and art, where nature overwhelms the experience at the beginning and is transformed by the power of man – to art.

The sequence begins at the top of the garden with the biblical deluge as a cleansing,

leaving only pairs (of two) signified here by the two pavilions.

Continuing through the sequence one passes the water chain and the river gods,

As one continues through the garden mans technology begins to become clear. Places to interact with nature are part of the composition, as is the dining table.

and the sequence continues to the parterre, an expression of art thoroughly dominating nature.



Villa Medici



Francesco de Medici I, owner. Villa and park design –

The bare mountainous site was chosen deliberately by Francesco I to express his power over nature, through a garden narrative. The landscape was composed of many scenes of nature not meant as symbolic representations, but as literal imitations. Machines, sometimes referred to as automata were used to enhance the experience. Human and god figures, and animals would move as the visitor looked on. Grottoes would fill with water when the visitor sat on the right bench, soaking them to the knees. As they rushed out in a panic they would have been sprayed by gargoyles lining the exterior of the grotto.

The huge Appennino pressing his hand on a monster that would have sprayed water is one of the few remaining pieces at Pratolino, it contained grottoes similar to those described.

Automata also created music and other sounds, completing the assault on the senses.

Like the movement of the machines, the visitor was also asked to move through the garden. A series of spaces organized similarly to those at Bomarzo were connected to one another, not in an axial way (as at the Villa Lante) but through the narrative. The story of the garden is used to create the organization, leading to a mazelike sequence.



Villa Gamberaia



Site was probably the site of a small farmhouse during the 15th and 16th centuries. At that time the property was owned by the Gambarelli family, two members of which were the architects Bernardo and Antonio Gamborelli or Rossellino as they were more generally known. 1592 property was sold.

The garden layout dates from about 1610 and the house probably achieved its present form early in the 18th century. (house is a simple square block with central courtyard and loggia overlooking the water garden.)

Complicated garden layout with varying levels, large open sunlit terraces, shady ilex woods and a beautiful water garden.

The situation of the Villa Gamberaia is similar to that of the Medici villa at Fiesole, with its views toward Florence. The overall plan for the villa is a series of separate spaces ordered by a long narrow bowling green. The overall composition is all in some way tied to the bowling green.

The Bowling green

The entry path leads to the bowling green and an entrance to the house.

The house with one corner on the upper level open to view the topiary garden and Florence in a single panorama, representing a connection between the grounds and the city.

The topiary garden with a semicircular theater as a geometrically controlled version of nature

The grotto garden

The lemon terrace

The secret garden



Villa Farnese



About 1547, Alessandro Farnese commissioned Vignola to build his villa on the foundations built by earlier architects for a castle that was never completed. The palace was “Perched at the top of a steep ascent with wonderful views.”

In the bosco behind the palace Cardinal Farnese built a casino as an outdoor dining area in the woods.

The casino resembles the Villa Lante in form, and probably in symbolism. The sequence is very similar – the source – the river gods –

the cascade – the mass of buildings at the Villa Lante, and the fountain in the final space. The similarities may have been inspired by the cardinals friendship with Cardinal Gambera, the owner of the Villa Lante at the time.



Isola Bella

Lake Maggiore


Isola Bella began as a retreat on the lake. Existing fishing villages were incorporated into the design on an island that was mainly composed of bare rocks. Fill was brought from the shores of the lake to create the island design as an expression of a drifting ship. The original idea differed from the built design to accommodate the site conditions including the village.

The entry to the villa is adjacent to the village at the palace.

The sequence continues through the palace to the garden – the water theater, under which is a reservoir used as storage for drinking water –

and finally a wide terrace.

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