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

Grotto of the Villa Bandini

A late example of Italian garden grottoes is represented by the grotto of the Villa Bandini, situated in the Florentine suburb of Gavinana. It was commissioned in 1746 by Antonio Niccolini, to whose family the villa had been transferred in the seventeenth century. In the previous year Giuseppe Menabuoni, employed as a tutor of art in Niccolini’s house, had already begun preparing the first designs for the grotto, which was intended to provide a decorative termination of the villa’s garden on the south side. After the building itself had been erected in the form of an open loggia, the Florentine sculptor Giuseppe Giovannozzi began work on the decoration of the grotto itself. He divided the walls into geometric compartments, articulated with pilasters. The mosaic-decorated compartments frame burlesque dwarf-like figures on the narrow sides of the chamber. The grotto is dominated, on its end wall, by a large water basin, situated directly opposite the entrance. The central niche situated behind it contained once a Venus and Adonis group. This niche is flanked on both sides with compartments each containing a dragon accompanied with a satyr, or with a male figure in front of a rocky landscape; the scenes represented here have so far not been more precisely identified. However, as shown in the decoration of the grotto, such bucolic and burlesque representations were very popular in the eighteenth century. The restoration of the grotto, completed in 2000, has not only ensured its conservation, but also recovered its original polychromy.

View into the inner chamber

Arcaded entrance with mosaic decoration

West wall with burlesque figures

East wall with burlesque figure

East wall with burlesque figure

South wall with water basin, satyr, dragon and wrestling dwarfs

South wall with satyr and dragon

South wall with male figure and dragon

South wall with shell-encrusted herm

East wall with head of moor

View into the ceiling


East wall with head of moor

© KHI in Florence | 28.01.2021 13:55:08