Botanica Atlanta | Landscape Design, Construction & Maintenance


Atlanta Garden Design

Meaning in Landscape: Sacro Bosco at Bomarzo

Posted by Author on February 24, 2015 at 7:55 PM


The carved stone steps lead you down towards a dense gully, turning you left against a retaining wall collaged together from small stacked stones and a massive, tooled boulder. Rounding the corner, a weathered inscription is visible on the rock face, and your view terminates at a towering monstrosity against the tree canopy beyond.

This statuary is informally called the "wrestling giants," but we could be more explicit. An imposing stone figure flexes his muscles as he prepares to rip his vanquished foe -- literally -- limb from limb. The drama is elevated by the grotesque, agonized expression on the upturned face of his victim.

As described in my last post, Sacro Bosco at Bomarzo is a place of surprise, awe, and mystery. With work beginning with Count Pier Francesco Orsini's inheritance of the family property at Bomarzo in 1542 and continuing through his death in 1585, the garden attraction is sometimes nondescriptly called "Villa Orsini" or the "Gardens of Bomarzo." Colloquially, the name "Parco dei Mostri [Park of Monsters]" is used, and it becomes obvious from roadside signage that this more lurid name is preferred by the local tourism industry. In my writing, I have chosen to use its other name, "Sacro Bosco," because it is a complex work of landscape and art, and any other name would lose sight of the "enchanted forest" for the trees.

Though some of the finer details have been lost to the sands of time, what is most interesting to me about Sacro Bosco, are its literary symbolism and artistic influences. Built at a unique moment in time, the landscape artwork could be described as Italian Mannerist or Baroque. Count Orsini's sculptures pay reference to poems including Orlando Furioso and writings by Virgil and Dante. The environment has also served as a point of muse and influence to generations of artists, known and unknown, that include the likes of Salvador Dalí.



To a visitor today, there is no detectable master plan to the gardens. Perhaps this winding chaos was an intention of the original design, but after five centuries it is honestly hard to determine if this is more than a mere accident. There are moments of enclosure and reveal along the path corridors and landscape follies, and though these moments are not as tightly orchestrated as the landscape designs of recent centuries, their effect is dramatic nonetheless.

Like sequenced experiences, symmetry and formality appear on the grounds of Sacro Bosco only in fits and starts. In the theater and formal urn-lined court, a visitor finds reassuring moments of formality, but perhaps these spaces were created only to better emphasize the monstrous sculptures lurking around the corner.



Categories: Art & Inspiration, Garden History

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