gardens. Almost all maintenance is now machine-assisted. Once unimaginable innovations in communications and transporta- tion have opened many garden gates to mass tourism. This and the intellectual dominance of science have created a cultural climate in which factual knowledge today counts far more than simple emotional response, making it impossible to experience landscapes in the same way that earlier generations schooled by the Romantic poets and John Ruskin once did. Hear for example, Henry James describing the Villa Medici in Rome as “perhaps on the whole the most enchanting place in Rome.” With his inimitable ability to picture for us the elements of this enchantment, James goes on to say:
The upper part called the Boschetto has an incredible, impos- sible charm; an upper terrace, behind locked gates, covered with a little dusky forest of evergreen oaks. Such a dim light as of a fabled, haunted place, such a soft suffusion of tender grey-green tones, such a company of gnarled and twisted lit- tle miniature trunks – dwarfs playing with each other at being giants – and such a shower of golden sparkles drifting in from the vivid west!
Although few would write with such striking hyperbole and lush fantasy today, one can still feel a Jamesian thrill walking through this boschetto, as I did before my meeting with Giorgio Galletti, one of the participating scholars for the BGC’s Digital Archive project. Galletti, a highly respected consultant to several private owners, institutions, and government agencies undertak- ing landscape preservation projects, has examined archives and other evidence to determine the original grid layout of these gardens, which was obliterated when, in the 1960s, the grounds of the villa were renovated under the painter Balthus, who was then director of the French Academy. (The Villa Medici has
been since 1803 the pensione of the fortunate winners of the presigious Prix de Rome.)
In the charming studiolo Cardinal Fernando Medici built around 1580, Galletti pointed out a small fresco depicting the villa and its gardens. This, he said, was one of a series of clues used to resurrect the original design intentions for the site. “You must forget the met- ric system and think in terms of the unit of measurement used at the time,” he told me. As we strolled along the gravel paths bordered by rectangular compartments enclosed by bay laurel hedges, he explained how these were once beds for vegetables and fruit, the sale of surplus produce being a means of generating revenue for the cardinal. Following Galletti’s advice, these hedges are gradually being realigned and old axial relationships within the garden reestab- lished.
Like some other art histori-
ans whose professional com- mitments have carried them into the field of landscape
Villa Medici, Rome, fresco depicting original plan.
restoration, Alberta Campitelli, the chief official overseeing his- toric properties, parks, and public museums within the munici- pal government of Rome, has developed a sound working knowledge of botanical science. The gardens flanking the grand casino of the Villa Borghese, which once displayed Cardinal Scipio Borghese’s collection of rare bulbs, exotic plants, and simples had fallen into a state of extreme neglect. Old plant lists and the kind of archival botanical research that Lucia Tongiorgio Tomasi, another participating scholar in the BGC’s Digital Archive project, has done to significantly advance understanding of the contents of historic Italian villa gardens helped Campitelli and her colleagues to re-create the concept of these gardens as botanical showcases. Conceived as giardini segreti – secret gar-
The boschetto of the Villa Medici in Rome.
dens – they were enclosed by high walls extending from the facade of the villa. Now only an iron-rail fence exists in place of the walls, and Campiteli does not wish, as some historic preser- vation purists might, to have the old walls replicated, inasmuch as this would prevent the public from viewing the gardens.
Her office wall has, framed, the proclamation of 1903 announcing the opening of Villa Borghese to the public after the Church had turned its administra- tion over to the State, at which time the extensive gardens became Rome’s principal munici- pal park and the villa’s casino a museum where the public can now enjoy Cardinal Borghese’s superb collection of ancient sculp- ture and Baroque masterpieces by Bernini. Campitelli recently over- saw the renovation of the muse- um’s opulent interiors with their walls of richly veined multicolored marbles and ceilings of trompe l’oeil frescoes depicting allegorical dramas. So popular are these splendidly restored galleries that visitors are issued tickets for specified two-hour time slots to prevent overcrowding.
On the grounds outside, I saw that, since my last visit a few years ago, in addition to the two enclosed gardens flanking the museum, the parterre garden, the twin aviaries, and the Meridiana (or sundial tower) had been carefully restored. Copies of Bernini’s large herms depicting the garden gods Bacchus and Pomona (the originals are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City) preside over gravel walks and clipped hedges of box. Children splash water from a central fountain basin. For Campitelli, as for me, there was obvious pleasure in the sight of Roman citizens enjoying the villa’s gardens as a green respite from the noisy streets.
As one of the great seventeenth-century papal villas, Villa Borghese occupied an enormous vigna, or suburban estate, that Scipione Caffarelli, nephew of Pope Paul V (formerly Cardinal Camillo Borghese), and his family acquired following the pope’s election in 1605. Beyond the gardens immediately surrounding the museum, the park is a much-altered version of the Borghese Gardens as they existed before 1903. Only landscape scholars can trace the outlines of the gardens’ three recinti, or precincts,