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Villa d’Este
Villa Medici, Castello
Villa Medici, Pratolino
Villa Lante
Villa Farnese, Caprarola

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Michel de Montaigne’s Travel Journal (1580–1581)

Villa Medici, Castello

After dinner the four gentlemen and a guide took post horses to go and see a place of the duke’s called Castello. The house has nothing worth while about it; but there are various things about the gardens. The whole estate is situated on the slope of a hill, so that the straight walks are all on a slope, but a soft and easy one; the cross walks are straight and level. One sees there many arbors, very thickly interwoven and covered with all kinds of odoriferous trees such as cedars, cypresses, orange trees, lemon trees, and olive trees, the branches so joined and interlaced that it is easy to see that the sun at its greatest strength could not get in; and copses of cypress and of those other trees disposed in order so close to each other that there is room for only three or four people to pass abreast. There is a big reservoir, among other things, in the middle of which you see a natural-looking artificial rock, and it seems all frozen over, by means of that material with which the duke has covered his grottoes at Pratolino; and above the rock is a large bronze statue of a very old hoary man seated on his rear with his arms crossed, from all over whose beard, forehead, and hair water flows incessantly, drop by drop, representing sweat and tears; and the fountain has no other conduit than that.

Elsewhere they had the very amusing experience of seeing what I have noted above; for as they were walking about the garden and looking at its curiosities, the gardener left their company for this purpose; and as they were in a certain spot contemplating certain marble statues, there spurted up under their feet and between their legs, through an infinite number of tiny holes, jets of water so minute that they were almost invisible, imitating supremely well the trickle of fine rain, with which they were completely sprinkled by the operation of some underground spring which the gardener was working more than two hundred paces from there, with such artifice that from there on the outside he made these spurts of water rise and fall as he pleased, turning and moving them just as he wanted. This same game is found here in several places.

They also saw the master fountain, which issues from a conduit in two very big bronze effigies, of which the lower holds the other in his arms and is squeezing him with all his might; the other half fainting, his head thrown back, seems to spurt this water forcibly out of his mouth; and it shoots out with such power that the stream of water rises thirty-seven fathoms above the height of these figures, which are at least twenty feet high. There is also a chamber among the branches of an evergreen tree, but much richer than any other that they had seen; for it is all filled out with the live green branches of the tree, and on all sides this chamber is so closed in by this verdure that there is no view out except through a few apertures that must be opened up by pushing aside the branches here and there; and in the center, through a concealed pipe, a jet of water rises right in this chamber through the center of a small marble table. Water music is also made here, but they could not hear it, for it was late for people who had to get back to town. They also saw the duke’s escutcheon here high over a gateway, very well-formed of some branches of trees fostered and maintained in their natural strength by fibers that one can barely discern. They were here in the most unpropitious season for gardens, and were all the more amazed. There is also a handsome grotto, where you see all sorts of animals represented to the life, spouting the water of these fountains, some by the beak, some by the wing, some by the claw or ear or the nostril. (pp. 67–68)

Villa D’Este, Tivoli

Tivoli, fifteen miles. This is the ancient Tiburtum, lying at the roots of the mountains, the town extending along the first rather steep slope, which makes its situation and view very rich, for it commands an immense plain in all directions, and great Rome itself. Its view is toward the sea, and it has the mountains behind it. This river Teverone bathes it, and near there takes a marvelous leap, coming down from the mountains and disappearing through a hole in the rock five or six hundred paces below, and then coming into the plain, where it meanders along playfully and joins the Tiber a little above the city.

Here are to be seen that famous palace and garden of the cardinal of Ferrara: it is a very beautiful thing, but incomplete in many parts, and the work is not being continued by the present cardinal. Here I examined everything most particularly. I would try to describe it here, but there are published books and pictures on the subject. The gushing of an infinity of jets of water checked and launched by a single spring that can be worked from far off, I had seen elsewhere on my trip, both at Florence and at Augsburg, as has been stated above. The music of the organ, which is real music and a natural organ, though always playing the same thing, is effected by means of the water, which falls with great violence into a round arched cave and agitates the air that is in there and forces it, in order to get out, to go through the pipes of the organ and supply it with wind. Another stream of water, driving a wheel with certain teeth on it, causes the organ keyboard to be struck in a certain order; so you hear an imitation of the sound of trumpets. In another place you hear the song of birds, which are little bronze flutes that you see at regals; they give a sound like those little earthenware pots full of water that little children blow into by the spout, this by an artifice like that of an organ; and then by other springs they set in motion an owl, which, appearing at the top of the rock, makes this harmony cease instantly, for the birds are frightened by his presence; and then he leaves the place to them again. This goes on alternately as long as you want.

Elsewhere there issues a noise as of cannon shots; elsewhere a more frequent smaller noise, as of harquebus shots. This id done by a sudden fall of water into channels; and the air, laboring at the same time to get out, engenders this noise. All these inventions, or similar ones, produced by these same natural causes, I have seen elsewhere. There are ponds or reservoirs, with a stone margin all around and many tall freestone pillars above this parapet, about four paces apart from each other. From the head of these pillars water comes out with great force, not upward, but toward the pond. The mouths, being thus turned inward and facing one another, cast and scatter the water into this pond with such force that these shafts of water come to meet and clash in the air, and produce a thick and continual rain falling into the pond. The sun, falling upon it, engenders, both at the bottom of this pond and in the air and all around this place, a rainbow so natural and vivid that it lacks nothing of the one we see in the sky. This I had not seen elsewhere.

Under the palace there are great hollows, artificially made, and air holes which give out a cold vapor and cool off all the lower part of this house enormously; this part, however, is not completed. I also saw many excellent statues there, and notably one sleeping nymph, one dead one, a celestial Pallas, the Adonis in the home of the bishop of Aquino; the bronze she-wolf and the boy taking out a thorn, in the Capitol; the Laoco÷n and the Antinous of the Belvedere; the Comedy in the Capitol, the Satyr in the vineyard of Cardinal Sforza; and of modern workmanship, the Moses in the sepulcher of San Pietro in Vinculis, the beautiful woman at the feet of Pope Paul III in the new Church of Saint Peter—these are the statues I have liked best in Rome. (pp. 98–100)

Villa Medici, Pratolino

It was to rival this place that Pratolino was built. As to the richness and beauty of the grottoes, Florence is infinitely superior; as to abundance of water, Ferrara; in variety of sports and amusing mechanisms derived from water, they are equal, unless the Florentine has a little more elegance in the arrangement and order of the whole body of the place; Ferrara excels in ancient statues, and in the palace, Florence. In situation and beauty of prospect Ferrara is infinitely superior; and I should say the same in all nature’s favors, if it did not have this extreme misfortune, that all its waters, except the fountain that is in the little garden all the way at the top, and which is seen in one of the palace rooms, is only water from the Teverone, a branch of which the cardinal has taken over and diverted to a separate channel for his service. If this water were as clear and good to drink as on the contrary it is muddy, this place would be incomparable, especially its great fountain, which is of the finest workmanship, and more beautiful to see with its adjuncts than anything else either in this garden or elsewhere. At Pratolino, on the contrary, what water there is is spring water and drawn from far away. Because the Teverone comes down from much higher mountains, the inhabitants of this place use it as they will, and the example of several private individuals makes this work of the cardinal’s less marvelous. (p. 100)

Villa Lante, Bagnaia

On Saturday, the last day of September, in the morning, I left Viterbo and took the road to Bagnaia, a place belonging to Cardinal Gambara, very ornate, and provided among other things with fountains. And in this respect it seems not only to equal but to surpass both Pratolino and Tivoli. In the first place it has running spring water, which Tivoli has not; and this is so abundant (as it is not at Pratolino) that it suffices for an infinite number of purposes. The same Messer Tomaso da Siena who directed the work at Tivoli, or most of it, is also in charge of this, which is not finished; and thus, always adding new inventions to the old, he has put into this, his latest work, much more art, beauty, and grace. Among a thousand other members of this excellent body you see a high pyramid which spouts water in many different ways; one jet rises, another falls. Around this pyramid are four beautiful little lakes, clear, clean, full of water. In the middle of each is a little stone ship with two musketeers which draw water and shoot it against the pyramid, and in each a trumpeter which also draws water. You go around these lakes and the pyramid by very beautiful alleys with balustrades of fine stone, most artfully carved. The others like other parts more. The palace is small but clean and pretty. Certainly, if I know anything about it, this place easily takes the prize for the use and service of water. The cardinal was not there. But since he is French at heart, his men showed us all the courtesy and friendliness that could be desired. (p. 162)

Villa Farnese, Caprarola

From here, following the straight road, we came upon Caprarola, a palace of Cardinal Farnese, which is very greatly renowned in Italy. I have seen none in Italy that may be compared with it. It has a great moat around it, cut out of the tufa. The building is above, in the manner of a terrace; you do not see the tiles. The form is pentagonal, but to the eye it appears distinctly square. Inside, however, it is perfectly round, with wide corridors going around it, all vaulted and painted on all sides. The rooms are all square; the building, very large; very beautiful public rooms. One of these is wonderful: on its vaulted ceiling (for the building is vaulted throughout) you see the celestial sphere, with all the constellations; around it on the walls, the terrestrial globe, the regions and the whole world, everything painted very rightly directly on the wall itself.

In various other places you see depicted the nobles actions of Pope Paul III and of the house of Farnese. The persons are portrayed so true to life that where you see portrayed our Constable, or the Queen Mother, or her sons Charles, Henry, and the duke of Alencon, and the queen of Navarre, they are immediately recognized by those who have seen them; likewise King Francis, Henry II, Pietro Strozzi and others. In one and the same room, you see the effigy of King Henry II at one end and in the place of honor, under which the inscription says "Preserver of the House of Farnese," and at the other end King Philip, whose inscription says "For the many benefits received from him."

Outside there are also many noteworthy and beautiful things, among others a grotto, which, spraying water artfully into a little lake, gives the appearance to the eye and the ear of the most natural rainfall. The location is barren and alpine. And the cardinal has to draw the water for his fountain all the way from Viterbo, eight miles away. (pp. 162–63)

Montaigne’s Travel Journal. Transl. Donald M. Frame. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1983.

 

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