Art and nature have always been closely interconnected. This is because, ever since the dawn of time, man has had a predilection for changing the landscape, moulding it, while at the same time allowing himself be influenced by its power. During the twentieth century, this relationship evolved, with a greater focus being placed on respect for the environment. In the mid-1960s, the Land Art, or Earth Art, artistic movement consisted of artists freely intervening within and upon the natural environment, exploiting its elements, but without altering it in a permanent way. The changes were therefore temporary, yet impactful, with the environment itself becoming both the material and the artwork, and not merely serving as a “model”. The last piece of art realised by the late Christo in Italy is also emblematic in this sense: The Floating Piers (2016), an impressive walkway on Lake Iseo.
During those same years, the American Land Art movement was countered by the European phenomenon of Art In Nature or Environmental Art, in which man no longer ruled over nature, but was instead seen as a close ally. These precepts gave rise to numerous art gardens, which contain modern and contemporary sculptures and artworks integrated within the natural landscape, offering visitors the opportunity to enjoy a unique and entirely immersive artistic experience.
Today we’ll be exploring some of the most spectacular art gardens in Italy and abroad.
Art gardens: 3 extraordinary parks, with sculptures and land art to be discovered
Sacro Bosco di Bomarzo – Viterbo
During the sixteenth century, with the glories of the Renaissance, the art of gardening was introduced to new stimuli, resulting in a new design style: that of the Italian garden. This type of outdoor design is also referred to as “rational”, as it sought to assert man’s dominion over nature through a rigorous style. Of all the various Renaissance gardens, the Sacro Bosco di Bomarzo in Viterbo is particularly extraordinary. Known also as Villa delle Meraviglie or Parco dei Mostri, this park covers an area of about 3 hectares, and remains one of its kind on a worldwide scale. Designed by architect Pirro Ligorio and prince Vicino Orsini in 1552, it is flanked by an elegant and classic-style Italian garden, and consists of a pathway through the woods made up of dozens of boulders carved to look like monsters, dragons, mythological creatures and exotic animals, as well as fountains, obelisks, and leaning houses. To this day, it still isn’t clear what its original purpose was, but the fact remains that, amid the enormous statues and cryptic inscriptions, this labyrinth of sculptures and symbols is one of the world’s most magical and mysterious places. In fact, after his visit, Salvador Dalì himself stated that it was a unique historical invention. “You who have travelled the world wishing to see great stupendous marvels, come here, where there are horrendous faces, elephants, lions, bears, orcs and dragons”: all you need is the courage to explore it.
Giardino dei Tarocchi – Capalbio
The suggestive Giardino dei Tarocchi (Tarot Garden) in Pescia Fiorentina, an outlying village in the municipality of Capalbio, immersed in Tuscany’s Maremma region, is the work of visionary French-American painter, sculptor and director Niki de Saint Phalle. As its name suggests, this art garden is inspired precisely by the world of tarot cards. There are twenty-two majestic statues depicting the cards’ major arcana, which stand 12 to 15 metres in height, are made of steel and concrete, and are clad in glass, mirrors and decorative ceramics. The garden’s construction began in 1979, and it was opened to the public on May 15, 1998. To this day, suspended between reality and dream, between subtlety and excess, it continues to fascinate visitors from all over the world.
Arte Sella – Trento
We now move on to Val di Sella, to visit the garden of Villa Strobele. It was here that, in 1986, three friends from Borgo Valsugana decided to create a place where “art, music, dance and other expressions of human creativity come together, resulting in a unique dialogue between human ingenuity and the natural world.” Starting from the garden along a ArteNatura pathway (a forest trail that winds through the woods along the southern slope of Mount Armentera), visitors will encounter a series of installations and “fluid” artworks made with natural materials, emerging from the landscape and then re-immerse themselves in the wilderness, which, like a “treasure chest of time”, must always be preserved. For example, imagine finding yourself standing in front of a nave lined with columns of intertwined branches, all surrounding a hornbeam tree, which, once fully grown, should take the place of the current structure, which will eventually rot and disappear. Giuliano Mauri's Vegetable Cathedral (nicknamed “The Weaver of the Forest”) is one of the most evocative works that can be found in this place, where the artwork follows the natural life cycle of the environment, living for a limited time, without changing its essence. Today, Arte Sella is an important reality, representing a perfect expression of the values of the Art in Nature movement, and encompassing the works of several internationally renowned architects, including Atsushi Kitagawara, Kengo Kuma, and Michele De Lucchi.
Art Gardens: international examples
Imagine a park containing 212 bronze and granite sculptures: that's what you’ll find at Vigelandsparken, an area located inside Oslo’s Frognerparken, the largest park in the city. The extraordinary nature of this place is underscored by the fact that all the works were sculpted by a single artist, Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, between 1939 and 1949. Another magical place is the Dean Sculpture Trail immersed in the Dean forest of Coleford, England, which was established in 1986 as one of England’s very first art parks. This trail is home to 27 site-specific works (some permanent, others temporary – in fact, just 17 are currently visible) located along a circular pathway of about 6 km, which blend in with the surrounding landscape: these include the famous “Cathedral in the forest”, a suspended stained glass window created by Kevin Atherton in 1986.
These are just some of the art gardens that can be found throughout Italy and abroad: extraordinary places conducive to meditation, where visitors can enjoy unusual experiences by simply taking a stroll. All you have to do is allow yourself to be captivated by the countless bonds created between art and nature.