Villa Lante in Italy, photo and description

Villa Lante. Villa Lante

Villa Lante was also built to a project by Barozzi da Viñola in the 1650s. It is situated in Bagnoia, 84 km from Rome. The owner of the villa was the Duke of Montalto, an area of 1.5 hectares, the difference in relief of 16 meters. Here, as in the Villa Caprarola, the theme of a stream running down the mountain forms the longitudinal axis of the garden. However, while the overall plan is similar, the solution to this theme differs significantly. By “dividing” the house into two volumes and arranging them symmetrically along the axis the architect seems to have widened the path of the stream.

Lower terrace – the entrance to the garden – is designed as a flat parterre (75X75 m), divided into a series of squares. Inscribed into their module water parterre with a circular island in the center, where a sculptural group of boys (height 10 m), supporting the arms of Montalto, gives a monumental vertical. The other squares of the parterre are decorated with flowerbeds enclosed in boxwood borders.

Villa Lante
Villa Lante: 1 – Parterre flat garden, 2 – water parterre, 3 – Villa buildings, 4 – circular fountain, 5 – water tray, 6 – Fountain of the River Gods, 7 – watercourse, 8 – green walls framing the watercourse, 9 – fountain, 10 – aviary

The composition of the garden is interesting in a gradual change of park scenes, the individual decision of each level, where as you move forward decreases the architectural elements, closer approach the walls of the Bosque and more tightly closed crowns of trees (plane trees). The watercourse flowing (as in Villa Caprarola) along the ramp is here framed not by stone but by green walls.

The garden is surrounded by a wall, but to the west there is a grove of free-growing trees with various park devices: a swimming pool, a gazebo, a Pegasus fountain, a labyrinth.

Villa Lante is one of the best examples of late Renaissance Italian garden art with Mannerist elements. The site of Villa Lante has been known since ancient times for its mineral waters, so the village of Bagnaia has its roots in the word bagno, “bath”. Since the 12th century, there were forests and hunting grounds belonging to the supreme figures of the Roman Church. Today, there is a small forest park.

In 1566, the new bishop of Vitterbo, Giovanni Gambara, looked for a place to build a villa, and then he invited the famous architect Giacomo da Vignola. The young connoisseur of nature and art spared no expense to realize the architect’s plans. It is known that the bishop, by his excessive extravagance and frivolity in building his villa, incurred the wrath of the church and gave up his plans to complete the second pavilion, spending the funds for the restoration of the church in Viterbo. For this reason the second pavilion was completed a decade later by the next owner of the villa, Cardinal Alessandro Montalto. This is the reason for the use of elements of the coats of arms of the two families, the Gambara (“gambero” – cancer) and the Montalto (mountain with star) in the decoration of the villa and the park. Later, for almost three centuries, the villa belonged to the Lante family, which gave it its name, until it was finally taken over by the Italian government.

Villa d'Este in Tivoli, photo and description

Although the historical entrance to the Villa Lante was at its lowest part and the modern one next to the Gambara pavilion, it is best to begin the tour of the estate at its upper part. According to this diagram we can appreciate the full symbolism of the Villa Lante, which is designed to allow the independent movement of water from the “source of life” – the Potok Fountain – to the “sea of death” – the Fountain of the Square.

The Flow Fountain is enclosed in a small courtyard between two pavilions. In the center of the courtyard is a small statue, one of the many “water jesters” of the estate. Jets can fly out of the mouths of mythological creatures’ heads, dousing astonished visitors with splashes of water. The complex with the fountain, made of roughly hewn stones, on one side serves as a source of water for the entire water economy of the Villa Lante, while on the other side it symbolizes the peaks of Mount Parnassus rising from the waters of the Flood. The architect also symbolically represented all four elements of nature in the villa, so the Flow and Dolphin fountains represent “Water”, the Giants fountain represents “Earth”, the Torches fountain represents “Fire”, and the Square fountain represents “Air”. Finally, the Flow fountain, as mentioned earlier, symbolizes the source of Life. As we can see, the symbolic load of each element of the Villa Lante was unusually great, and yet the utilitarian issues of external design were also addressed.

In the center of the gravel ground, surrounded by ancient plane trees, is an octagonal fountain Dolphins. The main elements of the fountain are 16 dolphins, arranged in pairs in the lower tier in the corners of the octahedron. Details of the fountain shimmer in the sunlight like blackened copper. In fact, peperino volcanic tuff was used in its decoration.

From the Dolphin Fountain the water disappears underground to gush out of the yawning of the giant crayfish, the emblem of the Gambara family. This is the element of the Chain Fountain that serves as the link between the Dolphin Fountain and the Giant Fountain. The cascade is assembled from scrolls, the bottom of which is shaped so that the turbulent stream swirls to form a beautiful water pattern.

At the top of the Gigantes Fountain is a balustrade of black tuff with bowls and masks serving as water sources. The skill of the architect who skilfully used the law of communicating vessels and the power of gravity to create such complex water features is to be admired. The source of the water in the fountain of the Giants is the same mouth of the giant crayfish, whose image is ubiquitous in the decoration of the Villa Lante. In the fountain the water is pacified for a moment at the foot of the lazily lying statues of the gods of the Tiber and Arno rivers, until through a ceramic tube hidden underground it falls into a long trough of volcanic tuff. The wide-edged trough is nothing more than a dining table, with the central part, filled with water, used by guests to cool their wine bottles on hot summer days.

Villa Adriana in Tivoli, architecture and description

From the dining table, water gushes out from the open mouth of the mascaron to disappear again underground. This time, the water flows into a quiet, overgrown garden of charming azaleas. Here is a tiered circular fountain of torches with seven dozen jets of water imitating candles with candlesticks. The fountain is on the same level as the upper entrance to the Gambara and Montalto pavilions.

The water calms down in a complex of four square ponds with the Moor’s fountain in the center. The Garden of the Lake symbolizes the “Sea of Death”, so in the center of each pond is a boat with a carrier waiting for passengers crossing the River Styx into the dark realm of Hades. The area of the garden is divided into twelve blocks, of which the eight outer blocks are parterres of sheared boxwood and yew bushes with granite crumb trowels. The species diversity of the garden was originally richer, with specimens of laurel, trellises with fruit trees, citrus trees, pomegranates, grapes, fragrant jasmine, clematis, and many others.

One should pay attention to the sculptures of the Moors; it is hard to believe that the figures are hewn from volcanic tuff rather than cast in bronze. The arms of the Moors support the emblem of the Montalto family, a mountain top with a star. The original design showed water running out of the star in a series of thin streams, like a bedspread over the Moors.

Looking at the fountain one gets the feeling that the Moorish sculptures are somewhat out of place in the general concept of the Villa Lante. As it is, the diaries of Giovanni Gambara’s contemporaries mention the existence of a pyramid, which was later dismantled by the next owner of the villa and replaced by a sculptural group of Moors.

Return to Tuscany. On the way to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante.

Having started the “fountain” theme in the ancient city of Viterbo, we continued our acquaintance with the water-engineering art of these places six kilometers away from the old town of the Papal fiefdom. Our native St. Petersburg also has fountains, not to mention the nearest Peterhof, so it was doubly interesting to look at this engineering and architectural marvel.

From Viterbo to Bagnaia, where Villa Lante is located, it’s only 15 minutes by car. It’s unlikely to park right next to the entrance of the villa – there are very few places nearby, and there are plenty of people interested even in the morning. So we parked at a large free parking lot nearby (approaching the old town, before the stone bridge you must not miss the sign for parking), and from there we walked up the stairs to the level of the city center. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the parking lot to the park entrance. As of May 2019, the entrance fee was 5 euros.

The beautiful villa and fountain-park ensemble appeared here in the mid-16th century, when the aqueduct water was brought up the hill. But it only acquired the features familiar to us today under its next owners, the Cardinals Giovanni Gambara and, later, Alessandro Montalto. The first of these two ministers owed the appearance of the amazing fountains and the construction of one of the two park palaces.

Villa Doria-Pamphili, photo and description

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

It must be said that Giovanni Gambara did not spare money for the arrangement of the territory, it is believed that he invited the famous architect Giacomo da Vignola to carry out the work, according to other sources the arrangement of the fountain complex was engaged by the hydraulic engineer Tommaso Ginucci, Wikipedia says that he arranged in the park fountains-jumpers. Be that as it may, the improvement of the architectural and fountain complex was going on with all the luxury permitted to the cardinal, but this wastefulness came to an end when the archbishop of Milan Carlo Borromeo, known for his asceticism, arrived at the villa with a visit. He stopped the embezzlement of church funds by recommending that Cardinal Gambara use the wealth for godly causes, building a church or a monastery. Therefore, the villa only acquired its final appearance under its next owner, who continued to furnish the park, and built a second palazzo mirroring his predecessor, as well as decorating the palaces with frescoes.

The name Lante Villa acquired later, after the last owners of the complex, who owned the villa for about three hundred years. But the former creators of the wonderful park with its fountains and pavilions left in the architectural design elements of the coats of arms of both families: the crayfish (“gambero”) from the heraldic image of the Gambara branch and the mountain with a star from the Montalto line.

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

At the entrance, almost immediately after the ticket office, on the lower level of the park, the Fontana del Pegaso (Pegasus Fountain) catches our attention immediately.

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

The central figure of the composition is the mythological horse Pegasus, beating his hooves on the rock on the mountain of the Muses Helicon, releasing from the bowels of the earth the Hippocrene source, which became the source of inspiration for poets. The statues of the Muses surround the beautiful horse, while small sculptures of putti with wings and miniature wind instruments emerge from the water, from which jets of water pour out instead of the sounds of music.

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

This fountain is like a prelude to the beauty of the park, which can be reached by climbing a few stone steps.

Strictly speaking, it is recommended to start the tour from the top down, to appreciate the whole idea of the creator of magnificent water cascades on merit. Therefore, I will tell and show these fountains exactly in that order, as the author intended.

So, the image of the fountain complex was conceived as a symbolic representation of the transition from the beginning of life to its end. Because the park is on several levels, from a height of 16 metres the water of the fountain of life flows naturally to the lower terrace, a regular garden to the fountain of the Moors where nature is subdued by man, passing through four elements: water (the fountains of the Flood and the Dolphins), earth (the fountain of Giants), fire (the fountain of torches) and air (the fountain of Moors).

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

On the upper terrace, in a small courtyard between two pavilions, the Fontana del Diluvio (Fountain of the Flood) is arranged. The green stone wall spews out streams of water, symbolizing Mount Parnassus, which rose from the waters of the Flood and gave a chance for new life to the survivors.

Villa Barbaro in Mazere, photo and description

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

In this courtyard you can see a four-faced stone statue, a representation of the Roman god. It is written that this is one of the water “jokes” of the creator of the fountain complex, whose idea is to have water jets gushing out of the mouths of mythological creatures from time to time, astonishing the gaping viewer.

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

After googling a bit about the four-faced Roman god, I found interesting information about the ancient Roman god Janus, who is usually depicted as two-faced, but his four-faced hypostasis is also known. He was worshipped as the most ancient and the first of the Roman gods, the god of every beginning, he guards every person from the first moments of his womb life, and the first month of the year, January, was named after this deity. And this interesting information sheds some light on the idea of the author of the fountain complex, who placed the stone statue of the deity here, at the source of life (previously it was in the middle of an older fountain in the Public Park nearby). We can also add that Janus was worshipped as the first king of Latium, and the villa, as we recall, is located in Lazio, near Viterbo.

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

Moreover, as the god of all beginnings, Janus was the divine gatekeeper, the shutting and opening, the deity of doors, entrances and exits, and his attributes were the key and the gatekeeper’s staff, to ward off uninvited guests. And this nuance allows us to appreciate the joke of the architect who used the stone idol of the gatekeeper as a water “joke”.

Alas, we did not see the “stone gatekeeper” in action during our visit, nor did we see another engineering “surprise” of this fountain – water spraying on unsuspecting tourists from the roofs of symmetrically located pavilions, in whose courtyard the fountain is located. Saw this “joke” in one of the videos on the internet. Whether it was not the season yet, or the park administration took pity on the rare visitors in such cold and wet weather that we did, but we did not have to get caught in the crossfire of the “jokes” of the 16th century:)

And we really didn’t have much luck with the weather. When we got to the park from time to time it started to rain, but in terms of aesthetics it did not particularly spoil the perception of the park, and maybe even added some zest, bringing more moisture into the air, which was already saturated with moisture from the ancient fountains. Well, and there were not so many people, the few guests of the villa preferred to hide from the rain in the pavilions-:) In which, however, there was also something to look at – paintings from the 16th century.

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

The “jokers” didn’t work, and, alas, neither did the Fontana dei Delfini (Dolphin Fountain), into which water flows from the Flood Pool before heading down to the next terrace of the complex.

Rushing out of the ground through the jaws of a huge stone crayfish (we remember the family emblem of the Gambara family, after all), torrents of water take their journey down the intricately shaped stone trough Fontana della Catena (Fountain of Chains) that connects the Dolphin Fountain and the Giants’ Fountain.

Abbotsford House, the manor where Walter Scott lived

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

This openwork, shaped by stone curls and thresholds, the waterway makes the stream rush and swirl.

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

At the end of the path the water pours through the stone claws of a giant crayfish into another beautiful fountain, located on the second level of the park and named La Fontana dei Giganti (Fountain of Giants), although it also has another name – Fountain of Rivers.

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

On either side of the semicircular stone bowl rest two gigantic stone river deities, symbolizing the Tiber and Arno rivers, emphasizing the political connection between Rome and Florence.

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

The composition and size of this scene were probably intended to amaze the Cardinal’s guests who were received here at the Tavola del Cardinale, a continuation of the fountain in the form of a huge stone table with a recess carved in its middle for water to flow on its course and for cooling drinks during receptions. Many details in the decoration of the fountain complex are made of black volcanic tuff – peperino, which we were already familiar with from Viterbo.

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

After passing the cardinal’s table, the water poured through the open mouth of the mascaron to get to the next fountain – La Fontana dei Lumini (Fountain of Candles).

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

The three levels of round steps are decorated with seventy stone spouts, some of which really resemble small candlesticks, and the 70 jets of water spewing from them, for some reason, for me personally, caused an association with a birthday cake full of candles-:)

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

They say at one time they lit it with torches, so the jets of water were beautifully illuminated by an oscillating fire, I think it was very spectacular.

From here, this fountain offers a great view of the lower level of the park with its most impressive fountain, the Fontana dei Mori (Fountain of the Moors).

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

Here I immediately see the familiar views and angles that I remembered from the TV series “Medici. Lords of Florence”, because several scenes of the second season were filmed in this fountain, and this beautiful water complex was supposed to depict the possessions of the Pope in the plot of the narrative.

In the second part of the video resulting from this trip, you can see the footage I’m talking about:

The fountain is located in the center of a neat garden formed by boxwood alleys. The basin of the fountain, is divided into four austere squares, with a sculptural composition in the center of the composition. Graceful bridges lead to an inner balustrade, smoothly enveloping in a circle the center of the fountain.

Return to Tuscany. On the road to Tuscany via Lazio. Villa Lante

This geometrically shaped pond symbolizes the “Sea of Death” and within each of the four ponds a boat can be seen waiting for travellers bound for the Kingdom of Hades. The figures of athletically built young men, like many details of architectural decoration of the fountain complex, are made of volcanic tuff, which over time has become so blackened that the young men were called Moors. The emblem of the Montalto family, held in the hands of stone athletes – the top of a mountain with a star above it – also attracts attention.

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