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

Grotto of the Palazzo Balbi Senarega

The grotto built by Francesco Maria Balbi in the garden of his city palace between 1645 and 1649 is immediately visible from the portal leading in from the street. The eye is led through the colonnaded inner courtyard into the garden to the back, at the far end of which the grotto is built. Preceded by a column-supported loggia facing onto the garden, the grotto itself, in contrast to other grottoes, is entirely conceived as a fountain and hence not itself accessible. Over-lifesize stucco figures of Jupiter and Charon stand sentinel in shell niches on the façade. From the central rocaille niche on the end wall of the grotto Neptune with sea-horses seems to be riding towards the observer over a stepped base that would originally have resounded with cascading water. The figures facing each other in the rocaille niches on the narrow sides are thought to represent Pluto on the one side and Proserpina (whom he carried away to the infernal regions) on the other. Proserpina’s annual emergence onto the surface of the earth at the beginning of spring is alluded to here by her upward-pointing gesture, to which Pluto responds with a gesture of farewell. The groins of the vaulted ceiling are decorated with mosaic representations of unstable Fama with her upward and downward pointed trumpets, flanked by the heads of Amor in medallions.


Colonnaded courtyard with view into garden

View from the outside of the grotto with arcaded portico

Grotto façade with the statue of Charon

Central niche with statue of Neptune

East niche with statue of Pluto

West niche with statue of Proserpina

Central bay of the ceiling with Fama

East bay of the ceiling with marine creatures




© KHI in Florence | 28.11.2020 15:32:47