garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad
From time to time, I get comments about my avatar (the icon attached to this blog). Most recently, fellow blogger Diana of Elephant’s Eye wondered if it was a startled Green Man.
In fact, the little mask can be found in the glorious Villa d’Este, the sixteenth century “garden of marvels” in Tivoli, just outside Rome.
It’s in the Avenue of the Hundred Fountains, where three levels of water gush and spray and spill in a dazzling spectacle. The upper level of the fountains has some fine sculptures of birds and flowers; the lower row has dozens of little animal faces or masks, all spurting forth water into a trough below. There are anthropomorphic lions and rabbits, wolves and monkeys.
As was common in Renaissance gardens, the water feature was designed to have a specific meaning: it represents the relationship between nature and humanity, with the three levels of water a reminder of Tivoli’s three rivers, and the eagles and fleur-de-lys symbolising the gardens’ creators, the Este family. Originally the animal masks were interspersed with carved panels showing scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, but these are now hidden beneath blankets of maidenhair fern. Ironically, it is probably the wild, overgrown feel of the garden today that is one of the main reasons for its popularity.
So one of the animal masks felt a good choice of image to illustrate my blog: it is a detail in an iconic garden, part of a feature that symbolises the balance between art and nature, as well as bearing witness to the changing character of historic gardens.
Most of all, I just found the little monkey face to be quirky yet appealing, which is my wish for this blog.
I’ve also just stumbled on an Italian verse that pleasingly suggests the Hundred Fountains are like a female voice:
Parlan fra le non tocche verzure le Cento Fontane,
Parlan soavi e piane come femminee bocche,
Mentre sui lor fastigi che il sole di porpora veste,
Splendono (oh Gloria d’Este) l’aquile e i fiordiligi.
The Hundred Fountains speak in the midst of that untouched greenery, / they speak gently and sweetly like the mouths of women, / while at the highest point, clothed in purple by the sun, / shine those glories of the Este, the eagle and the fleur-de-lys.
I too wondered about your avatar, thanks for posting about it. It is very recognizable. I enjoyed the history of the Hundred Fountains too.
I am glad that the mystery is solved. I like the monkey face and wondered about its origin. I have never given much thought to historical gardens. One of the gifts I have received through blotanical is the realization that gardening is so much more than the plants you put in the grown.
I’ve been there! But, I was straight out of university, not yet interested in gardens, so I can only enjoy this detail now thru your eyes. (Maybe put a link to this post in your About Me, see, they all wanted to ask …)
Thanks for the original question that encouraged me to write this post, and for the suggestion of linking it with About Me. I had not for a moment imagined people puzzling over my avatar!
To overcome these difficulties new innovations were created using a combination of cascades water tanks troughs pools jets and fountains. The resulting structures and water features were so spectacular they were oft copies over the next two centuries in and surrounding countries..At one end of this spectacular garden of fountains and watery delights is The Fountain of Ovate or the Fountain of Tivoli.
Very interesting! Such a pleasant reading and nice pictures!
I have been there too but it was a long time ago, and I don’t remember it that well. I am glad you explained your mysterious avatar.
What a beautiful blog you have! I am an American married to a Frenchman living in France. I will be adding your blog to my blogroll!
Great Post. You are going on my favourites.
I live just outside Boston, small world… Love the monkey, the hundred fountains looks like an awesome place !