Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Mars out, Venus in . . . a Verona garden

Classical allegory in an Italian renaissance garden by Thornton Kay

Above: Venus, Cupid, Bacchus and Ceres painted by Peter Paul Rubens in 1613. This was his version of Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus an allegory for ‘without food and wine love grows cold’.

Above: Giardino Giusti by J C Volkamer c1714

Battered sculpture of a warring Mars looking slightly coquettish above a bat wall fountain, perhaps signifying that Mars is sleeping, and has been banished to a location outside the garden

Googlemap of Giardino Giusti
View Palazzo e Giardino Giusti in a larger map

Verona, Veneto Italy - VERONA sits in a broad valley down which grand tour nobility entered Italy from Europe before heading east to Venice or down to Florence and Rome. In 1570 Agostino Giusti, Knight of the Venetian Republic and Gentleman of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, chose a site on the flood plain backed by a bluff which overlooks the town, and close to the old Roman theatre, to build a small palazzo and garden now known as Giardino Giusti.

“It’s an old saying, and a true one, Ceres and Bacchus are warm friends of Venus.” wrote Terence in his 170BC play The Eunuch, certainly seen in the nearby Roman theatre, and one of the allegories retold in the sixteenth century statuary at Giardini Giusti the meaning of which is that without food and wine love grows cold.

Above: Venus and a dolphin, probably carved by Alessandro Vittoria 1524-1608. In two other niches stand Ceres and Bacchus which give the ensemble the meaning Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus an old adage from Roman times meaning without food and wine love grows cold. Latin inscriptions carved into the bases of the three statues read: On Ceres: Ne Quid Veneri Deesset Cum Baccho Ceres Associatur meaning Venus needs nothing, because Ceres is here with Bacchus. On Venus: Sine me laetum nibil exoritur: statua in viridario miti pofita est ut in venere Venus esset meaning Without me nothing charms: my statue suits such a beautiful place. On Bacchus: Ambulator ne trepides Bacchum amatorem non bellatorem ad genium loci dominus p meaning Be not afraid, I am Bacchus a lover not a fighter, the spirit of this garden.

Rubens visited Verona and in 1613, perhaps influenced by the gardens, painted Venus being kept warm by Bacchus’ wine and Ceres’ bread. The muscular baroque treatment of the women in the painting is similar to that seen in the statuary figures of Venus and Ceres at Giusti.

Famous visitors included the composers Faure and Mozart, and nobility Cosimo de Medici, Czar Alexander I and Emperor Joseph II. Goethe also visited and surprised locals by decorating himself with cypress branches picked from Giusti and traipsing around town in a flamboyant manner. He described the huge cypresses as ‘soaring into the air like awls … a tree whose every branch aspires to heaven and which may live 300 years deserves to be venerated.’ A century later in 1868 Karl Baedeker wrote that the ‘somewhat neglected Giardino Giusti’ was celebrated for its 200 cypresses some of which are 400 to 500 years old and are said to exceed 120ft in height.

The view from the top of the craggy bluff inspired John Ruskin to write:
Now I do not think that there is any other rock in all the world, from which the places and monuments of so complex and deep a fragment of the history of its ages can be visible, as from this piece of crag, with its blue and prickly weeds. For you have thus beneath you at once, the birthplaces of Virgil and of Livy; the homes of Dante and Petrarch; and the source of the most sweet and pathetic inspiration of your own Shakespeare ; the spot where the civilization of the Gothic kingdoms was founded on the throne of Theodoric, and where whatever was strongest in the Italian race redeemed itself into life by its league against Barbarossa. You have the cradle of natural science and medicine in the schools of Padua ; the central light of Italian chivalry in the power of the Scaligers ; the chief stain of Italian cruelty in that of Ezzelin ; and, lastly, the birthplace of the highest art for among these hills, or by this very Adige bank, were born Mantegna, Titian, Coreggio, and Veronese.

Above: Oracular mascaron, or mask designed to banish evil spirits, c1570 by Bartolomeo Ridolfi tops the view up from Giusti’s entrance gates. Ridolfi was a Veronese stuccadore for Palladio who worked in nearby Vicenza.


[Images by TKay Salvo Llp © 2008 courtesy of Giardinoa Giusti]

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