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

Grotta Pavese

The grotto in the Genoese villa suburb of Sampierdarena was built for a nobleman from Savona, Camillo Pavese, on the occasion of his marriage with the Genoese Maria Doria in 1594. Embellished with precious decorations, the grotto was also used for banquets and theatrical performances. It gave the patron the chance to bolster his prestige within the Genoese nobility into which he had married. The building consists of a vestibule and an inner octagon articulated with free-standing pillars, surrounded by a ring of water. The complex decorative programme consists of an ensemble of figurative mosaics and no longer surviving ancient statues, which were placed in niches in the wall on the other side of the outer ring of water. In the vaulted ceiling of the vestibule, music-making muses provide a festive accompaniment to the visitor on entry into the grotto. They are flanked by representations of the four elements, whose transformation and intermixture as the original source of all matter had ever since antiquity traditionally been situated inside caves. The octagonal dome of the main chamber is decorated with mosaics. Here the theme of chastity is placed at the centre with the myths of Diana and Actaeon, the pregnancy of Callisto and Jupiter’s seduction of Proserpina. The water jets, the “scherzi d’acqua” installed in the sculptured figures of birds playfully remind the visitor of the threatening transformative power of water as means of metamorphosis of unworthy guests in the grotto of the nymphs.


View of the façade

View of the façade

View into the inner chamber

View into the vaulted ceiling of the vestibule

Vaulted ceiling of the vestibule with girl musician

Vaulted ceiling of the vestibolo with elements (water and earth)

View into the dome

Detail of the dome with Actaeon transformed into a stag

Octagonal arcade with niche and statue of bird




© KHI in Florence | 22.09.2020 16:51:09