The late sixteenth-century Italian garden with its monumental terraces, sculptures, and waterworks such as those at Villa d’Este and Villa Lante, was much admired and imitated in Northern Europe, particularly in France (Saint-Germain-en-Laye). Recorded in detail in the print books by Giovanni Battista Falda, the expansive Italian estates near Rome, such as the Villa Doria-Pamphilj (61.532.26.20) and the Villa Aldobrandini at Frascati, would continue to be admired as an aesthetic ideal. By the 1630s, however, the epicenter of garden artistic activity had gravitated to the North, led by the French royal garden architects André Mollet and Jacques Boyceau de la Baraudière. Each of these published treatises combining practical advice with new aesthetic concepts, adding models for novel “embroidered” boxwood and flowerbed ensembles called parterres de broderie (64.65.2, 52.519.69), including the celebrated parterres of the Jardin du Luxembourg (26.104.2) and the Tuileries in Paris. Mollet and Boyceau laid the groundwork for the supremacy of the French garden style under Louis XIV, culminating in the work of André Le Nôtre at Vaux-le-Vicomte (1660) and Versailles (1670–90) (20.41.126, 52.519.84.88, 52.184). The basic elements of Le Nôtre’s design, later codified by A.-J. Dézallier d’Argenville in La theorie et la pratique du jardinage (1709), consisted of a strongly unified composition, carefully balanced and proportioned for optimal visual effect. Centering on the palace and its dominating axis, a broad vista over the whole layout was offered, showing a hierarchical arrangement of parterres and waterworks within a grid plan, strictly lined by hedges and bosquets.
The Spread of the French Garden Style: The Anglo-Dutch Garden
From Austria (Belvedere in Vienna) in the South, to Sweden (Drottningholm) and Russia (St. Petersburg) in the North, French gardens became the model for garden design, often necessitating the reworking of Le Nôtre’s principles to fit the peculiarities of the various sites. During the reign of William III of Orange and Mary (1688–1702), the so-called Anglo-Dutch garden evolved in England (Hampton Court, 52.519.69) and Holland (Het Loo). Using Le Nôtre’s principles, adapted to fit the local wet climate and level terrain, these gardens were prime examples of the current French international style, which also would define the layout of the early eighteenth-century English estates depicted in the Britannia Illustrata (1715).
The French Rococo—Park and Idyllic Landscape in Interior Decoration
In France, from the death of Louis XIV in 1715 onward, new gardening principles led to new forms of social leisure in increasingly asymmetrical, more intimate and randomly planted Rococo garden-parks. The models for these gardens were the dreamlike park-scenes by Antoine Watteau and François Boucher (64.145.4), filled with colorful picnickers seated on grassy slopes among artificial ruins, whimsical pavilions, and playful fountains. Hubert Robert’s (17.190.27) park scenes with antique villas, obelisks, and aqueducts epitomize the vision of idyllic landscape, which became the central theme of eighteenth-century interior decoration (61.21.2), ranging from restrained classical wall designs in the North, to flamboyant Rococo furnishings for an actual garden room (1974.356.120a) in southern Germany.
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Woodbridge, Kenneth. Princely Gardens: The Origins and Development of the French Formal Style. New York: Rizzoli, 1986.
Sellers, Vanessa Bezemer. “The Eighteenth Century: From Geometric to Informal Gardens.” (October 2003)
Sellers, Vanessa Bezemer. “Gardens of Western Europe, 1600–1800.” (October 2003)
Sellers, Vanessa Bezemer, and Geoffrey Taylor. “The Idea and Invention of the Villa.” (October 2004)