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

Myth and Antiquity

While the main rooms of country villas and city palaces were often adorned with historical and genealogical themes or the sagas of ancient mythological heroes, whose protagonists were identified with the patrons themselves, the world of ancient mythology remained reserved in particular for grottos as “luoghi di piacere”, garden retreats. Especially popular were representations of Neptune, tritons, nereids, nymphs and river gods as well as myths with a particular connection with grottos and with the element of water, such as Diana and Actaeon, Galatea and Polyphemus or the Rape of Europa. It is hardly by chance that the universally valid topos of the contest between art and nature was exemplified in the sixteenth century by the fountain that formed the sacred haunt of Diana in the "Metamorphoses" in which Ovid describes a grotto and a natural arch of rock in which “nature by her own cunning has imitated art”. The figurative programmes of wall mosaics and mural paintings were often enriched with both ancient and modern sculptures, which in contrast to the rough stone walls of grottos added a particular vivacity to the ensemble. Equally the representation of ancient monuments served for the characterization of the grotto as a kind of retreat imitated from the villa culture of antiquity and at the same time a testimony of the humanistic culture of its patron.


Genoa, Grotta Pavese, Diana

Genoa, Fonte Doria, Galatea

Genoa, Fonte Doria, Galatea

Genoa, Fonte Doria, Europa

Genoa, Grotta Grimaldi in Bisagno, erotes in vine tendrils

Genoa, Grotta di Palazzo Balbi Senarega, Jupiter

Genoa, Grotta Pavese, Diana and Actaeon

Genoa, Grotta Pallavicino, Triton and Nereid

Genoa, Fonte Doria, river-god, the Nile

Genoa, Grotta di Palazzo Balbi Senarega, Amor




© KHI in Florence | 28.11.2020 15:34:09