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Natural artifizio – artifiziosa natura: Grottos of the Early Modern Age in Italy

Art form / natural form

Artificial grottoes represent a type of building that was borrowed from Antiquity and revived around 1500. From Italy the fashion spread throughout Europe, and speedily developed into a key component of villa culture. Especially Rome, Florence and Genoa developed into important artistic centres for this genre of architecture. Inspired by archaeological finds and the transmission of the texts of ancient authors, garden rooms resembling natural grottoes in their structure and decoration came to be created. They were decorated with stuccoes, paintings, mosaics, statues and fountains. In a dialectical relation between "naturale artifizio" and "artifiziosa natura", between the artificially created and naturally created form, the ancient topos of the conflict between art and nature was thus revived in a way that had already been associated with grottoes by Ovid. In a similar way as in "Wunderkammern" or cabinets of curiosities, the variety of form of the natural world was here recreated and gave the observer an insight into the creative power of the bowels of the earth. Thanks to their precious, often exotic decorative materials and rich décor of statuary, grottoes also came to represent status symbols in which the revival of the world of antiquity and the growing interest in the natural sciences were combined.


Florence, Villa Medicea di Castello, Grotta degli Animali (1536)

Genoa, Fonte Doria (1548/49)

Genoa, Grotta Grimaldi in Bisagno (second half of the 16th century)

Genoa, Grotta Pallavicino (early 1560s)

Genoa, Grotta Pavese (end of 16th century)

Genoa, Palazzo Balbi Senarega, grotto (1645/1649)

Florence, Boboli Gardens, Grotta di Mosè (1635)

Florence, Palazzo Corsini, grotto (1695-1697)

Florence, Villa Bandini, grotto (1746)




© KHI in Florence | 27.09.2020 13:06:38