Orsini's Sacro Busco, or the Park of Monsters
August 27, 2015 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Count Pier Francesco Orsini (Google auto-translate) was a man much given to melancholy. The premature death of his wife, Giulia Farnese, and other troubles contributing to the decay of the once proud Orsini dynasty, darkened his outlook on life. Like the world-hating Jacques in Shakespeare's As You Like It, he seems to have come to regard the world around him with a somewhat self-advertising disgust. Orsini retreated noisily from the world of human affairs into nature, albeit a nature much improved by art (Google books preview). Those improvements came in the form of larger-than-life sculptures, some sculpted in the bedrock, which populated Sacro Bosco ("Sacred Grove"), colloquially called Parco dei Mostri ("Park of the Monsters").

The design of the Mannerist garden is attributed to Pirro Ligorio, a minor Renaissance artist, architect, and antiquarian (excerpt of a scholarly review of a biography of Ligorio, which includes a brief reference to a tortoise statue in Orsini's garden [Google book preview]). The sculptures themselves are credited to Simone Moschino, son of the sculptor Simone Mosca. The Sacro Bosco at Bomarzo was constructed from 1552 until 1588, when Orsini died.

The garden was untended for centuries, rarely visited and mostly forgotten beyond the local community, until the 20th century. While the German painter Bertolomeus Breenberch made a series of drawings and paintings of Bomarzo in 1626, the garden didn't get much notable attention until Salvador Dalí visited the garden in 1938, possibly inspiring his painting The Temptation of St. Anthony. He also made a very short video of a visit to the gardens, titled Salvador Dalì nel "giardino dei mostri" (watermarked; lower quality without the watermark but still with the running time towards the bottom of the frame).

In 1950, Michelangelo Antonioni made a short documentary, simply titled Bomarzo. Argentine novelist Manuel Mujica Láinez wrote a novel in 1962, also titled Bomarzo (Google auto-translated; original book summary), and later that decade was turned into an opera (audio on YouTube). Artists of other sorts have also been inspired by the surreal sculptures in the garden, which came to a happy turning point in 1959, when Giovanni Bettini purchased the property and started maintaining the grounds.

Today, the garden is still privately maintained, but open to the public. You can't tell much about the grounds from aerial photography (Google maps), but here is a plan of the garden, drawn to scale, and a map of the statues, not drawn to scale, both from a nice article with photos, comparing Orsini's Sarco Bosco with Villa Lante at Bagnaia, different sorts of Mannerist gardens, just a 20 minute drive apart.

If you'd like to have more context for Orsini's garden, here's a 24 minute documentary titled Bomarzo, paradigm of a revolution, which uses the Bomarzo region and Sarco Bosco as an example of the transition from High Renaissance to Mannerism.
posted by filthy light thief (7 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't do a great job searching for prior posts, because at first I only found this comment from beelzbubba about his accidental visit to the garden. But then upon previewing the post, I found this previous post on the topic, but that post is lacking the background and various related projects, so here we are.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:07 AM on August 27, 2015

1952 Herbert List photo of Orcus.
posted by larrybob at 9:17 AM on August 27, 2015

Because Beelzbubba is my dad, I was on that trip.
posted by klangklangston at 9:35 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Book one.
posted by Oyéah at 9:39 AM on August 27, 2015

This place is so much fun to visit especially if you luck out, as I did, to go on a day when there are lowering clouds and the occasional rumble of thunder.
posted by PussKillian at 9:50 AM on August 27, 2015

Il Parco dei Mostri is so wonderful and I highly, highly recommend it. Villa Lante is also stunning, especially if it's cold enough that the fountains are frozen in sheaths of ice, but there's something really wonderful about stumbling through Bomarzo's enormous stone manifestations of the bizarre and intelligence, like some sort of primordial predecessor to illustrations of a plucky Alice in her Wonderland. It's great fun.

ps if anyone out there has a huge estate going fallow PLEASE BRING BACK FOLLIES and CRAZY GARDENS and PREPOSTEROUS WATER FEATURES do it do it do it
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:58 PM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

A+, best of the web, thank you.
posted by glasseyes at 4:05 AM on August 29, 2015

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