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

Grotta Pallavicino

The Grotta Pallavicino was commissioned by the wealthy Genoese merchant and trader in alum Tobia Pallavicino in the early 1560s. Unlike the Fonte Doria, it is placed in close architectural relation to the Villa Pallavicino delle Peschiere built above it through the imposing doricizing portico that leads into it. The interior of the grotto, its decoration supervised by Giovanni Battista Castello, consists of two parts: a vestibule with the Pallavicino coat of arms at the centre of its vaulted ceiling and an oval-shaped main chamber with richly articulated wall structure and dome. Niches containing statues on pedestals alternate with recesses containing rocaille-decorated fountain basins, opening like showcases in the wall. They reveal, like views into the bowels of the earth, a backdrop of elaborated limestone sinters and stalactites. The groins of the vault are decorated with all’antica architectural and landscape scenes, based in part on models from Sebastiano Serlio’s architectural treatise, such as the ancient Porta di Spello or Trajan’s Column. The signs of the zodiac represented in an oval frieze at the centre of the vaulted ceiling can be connected with the grotto as image of the cosmos from Porphyrius’ ancient treatise "De antro nympharum". At the same time it brings to mind the theory, disseminated in contemporary mineralogy, of the influence of the stars on the growth of precious gemstones and minerals in the bowels of the earth and hence of the grotto as place of metamorphosis and point of crystallization of the forces of nature.


Façade of the portico

Entrance to the vestibule

Vaulted ceiling of the vestibule

Fountain niche in the vestibule

Main chamber

Pendentive of the dome with Porta di Spello

Detail of the dome with Trajan’s Column

Dome with signs of the zodiac

Herm in the main chamber




© KHI in Florence | 28.11.2020 15:33:41