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Gardens of the World: Renaissance Gardens

The Emerging Renaissance – Nature and Art

Europe erupted from a period of darkness into the Renaissance. Known for art, architecture, technology, and literature, the Renaissance brought about a wave of cultural development. When we think of the Renaissance, we think of notable figures such as Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare, and Galileo Galilei. As the culture changed, so did the gardens of the world. Closed-off cloister gardens expanded outward and created a precedent for order, harmony, and aesthetics where art tamed nature. These became known as Renaissance Gardens.

Italy’s Growing Influences

Contrasting the cloister gardens and utilitarian gardens of the Middle Ages, Renaissance gardens were highly ornate and aimed at expanded outward, both physically and intellectually. Upper-class landowners, royalty, and religious figures owned majority, if not all, Renaissance gardens and they originated in the 15th century.

Florence and Rome were the epicenter of the new garden style and created the foundation of the Italian Renaissance gardens. Their expansive, geometric gardens typically built upon slopes took advantage of views outside the garden, which increased the perceived size of the space. Additionally, gardens were expansions of villas and incorporated frescos, sculptures, large water features, and outdoor rooms/spaces.

Unlike cloister gardens, Italian Renaissance gardens were for strolling, relaxation, entertaining, and retreat. The gardens included surprise and evoked exploration. As guests strolled gardens, they would discover hidden grottos, fountains, arbors, topiaries, glades, or unexpected views. Rightly so, some of my favorite and notable Italian Renaissance gardens include Villa Medici in Fiesole, Villa d’Este in Tivoli, Villa Madama, and Boboli Gardens.

Villa Medici in Fiesole

One of the most notable Italian Renaissance gardens includes Villa Medici in Fiesole. In fact, this villa is recognized by some as the first residence after the Medival period that wasn’t fortified and opened up to the surrounding landscape and rid itself of traditional Medival architecture and style.The villa sits atop a sloped landscape and overlooks the landscape below. Features of the garden include symmetry and strong geometric forms, which became rather iconic to many Renaissance gardens.

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Villa d’Este in Tivoli

Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este of Ferrara’s primary residence, Villa d’Este became an iconic Italian Renaissance garden. The designer, Pirro Ligorio, created a plan that took advantage of the steep terrain, but introduced strong geometric forms, allays of trees, water features, and a sense of exploration and discovery. The interplay of water and fountains are an important characteristic of this garden, especially the famous water organ, which is an organ powered by water.

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Boboli Gardens

Boboli Gardens is another Italian Renaissance garden the Medici family helped establish. Located behind Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy. Organized around a prominent central axis, the gardens house grottos, art, and sculptures. Therefore, as visitors explore the garden, they can disappear within wooded/wild areas and emerge near a large fountain with a statue of Neptune in its center.

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French Renaissance Gardens

As the Italian gardens’ influence grew, similar gardens began popping-up around Europe, especially within France and England. French Renaissance gardens had many of the same design characteristics of Italy’s gardens, but had more control over nature and increased perspective and space. The garden of Domaine Royal de Chateau-Gaillard is viewed as the first French Renaissance garden, which was built after King Charles VIII returned from Italy. This opulent garden typology in size and grandeur culminated with King Louis the XIV’s Palace of Versailles. Other French gardens include Chateau Vaux le Vicomte and Chateau de Villandry.

Domaine Royal de Chateau-Gaillard

King Charles VIII loved Italian Renaissance gardens and architecture, so he brought 22 Italian artists back to Amboise, France, to design and plan Domaine Royal de Cahteau-Gaillard. The gardens of this chateau sit on 15 hectares and have seven paths of paradise, a large orangery with over 60 citrus varieties.

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Palace of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles has the definition of a large garden. It. is. massive. Also known as Parc du Chateau de Versailles, this  800 hectare garden was designed by Andre Le Notre (A very important landscape designer during this period) for King Louis XIV. The gardens are organized by a cross-axis of water features that seemingly disappear into the horizon. If you visit the garden and need shade, don’t worry, there are over 200,000 trees and an additional 200,000 ornamental plants.  Additionally, throughout the garden, you’ll find lawns, parterres, sculpture gardens, fountains, and a residence for Maria Antoinette.

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English Renaissance Gardens

English Renaissance gardens were slightly different than Italian and French gardens. The strong, formal landscape typology present in Italian and French gardens existed and co-mingled with medieval gardens. Therefore, Tudor gardens during this period began emerging in the late 15th century. The English gardens connected homes to gardens but also included knot gardens, ornamental plants, and viewing mounts (man-made hills). Differing from other gardens was the use of deer parks. They provided recreation but also served as a symbol of wealth. Some examples include Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden and Hampton Court Palace.

Kenilworth Castle and Elizabethan Garden

The Elizabethan Gardens and Kenilworth Castle are juxtaposed atop an old Medival garden, which is a notable characteristic of English Renaissance gardens. Although, current visitors to the gardens are viewing a 2008 restoration of the gardens, as determined by architectural evidence. Nonetheless, the Elizabethan garden has a strong geometric form defined by ornamental plants, which is a stark difference from the preceding gardens of the Medival Period.

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Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is located in the London Borough of Richmond. Originally begun by Cardinal Wolsey, this residence became the primary residence of King Henry VIII and his six wives. Similarly, the palace’s open gardens are organized along a cross-axis and include arbors, mazes, and very ornate planting styles

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Eastern Gardening Influences

At the conclusion of the Middle Ages, culture quickly changed with art, literature, and architecture. Within Renaissance-era gardens, art became a way to control and subdue nature. While gardens affiliated with the Renaissance controlled nature, Asian gardens were seeking influences from nature – which we’ll discover in the next article of the Gardens of the World series.

Gardens of the World Series, Additional Articles

A Beginning Along a River

Expanding Empires

A Period of Darkness

Renaissance Gardens

Chinese & Japanese Gardens

A Capable Garden

A Great American Tradition

Interested in more gardening-related blogs or following Alachua County’s MGVs on Social Media? Check out the additional links from Dr. Clem.

Taylor’s Blog Homepage

Alachua County Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program Page

UF/IFAS Alachua County Extension Master Gardeners, Facebook Page

UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County YouTube Page

Podcast: Extension Cord


2 Comments on “Gardens of the World: Renaissance Gardens

  1. The Gardens of the Palace of Versailles is not a Renaissance Garden. It is instead a French Classical Garden, which held quite strongly opposing values of the renaissance ideals. It was not even in close proximity with the Renaissance period.

    • You are right, good catch! Many of the gardens during the Renaissance Period had varying underlying principles/theories. Le Notre definitely created the synthesized definition of French Classical Gardens, starting with Vaux-le-Vicomte, which definitely had Renaissance/Baroque garden influences. One major difference I’ve always liked was the use of theatrical perspectives within gardens (focal points, unification around one plane/frame, and use of planes to influence depth) and Mollet’s influence on parterres. Of course, the French-style gardens were substantially more grandiose than the Italian Renaissance for purposes of pleasure, entertainment, conducting court, etc, but focused much on absolutism. I’d love for you to send me some additional resources because it is hard to find them. You can send me a direct email to Thank you.

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