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Interpretive Text

Historical Documentation
Crescenzi, Liber ruralium commodorum
Varro, On Agriculture
Columella, On Agriculture

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Piero de’ Crescenzi and the Medieval Villa

Dates: c. 1304–1309
Location: Europe — Italy — Emilia-Romagna — Bologna

Piero de’Crescenzi’s twelve book treatise, the Liber ruralium commodorum, which can be roughly translated as On the Rural Arts, is the only major work on agriculture produced in the middle ages. Covering all aspects of agriculture, from soils and sowing to animal husbandry and hunting, Crescenzi relied heavily on the Roman agricultural tradtion, although he supplemented this with more recent developments in the natural sciences and medicine, exemplified by such thinkers as Albertus Magnus and the Avicenna (or Ibn-Sina). While not a work about villas per se, Crescenzi’s treatise lays the practical groundwork for building, managing, and maintaining an agricultural estate and even deviates from its Roman prototypes by with an entire book of his treatise to pleasure gardens, which can be related to the later development of villa gardens in the Renaissance. By the late fifteenth century, moreover, this treatise was widely available in manuscript and print editions and was owned by many of the early patrons of the lavish villas around Rome, Florence, and Venice. The treatise remained one of the most popular works of its kind until the seventeenth century when the Aristotelian precepts on which it was based were supplanted by the empirical methods of the new developments in science.

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