Villa Lante at Bagnaia is a
Mannerist garden of surprise near Viterbo,
central Italy, attributed to Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola).
Villa Lante did not become so known until it passed to Ippolito Lante
Montefeltro della Rovere, Duke of Bomarzo, in the 17th century, when
it was already 100 years old.
Basin and one of the casini
The Villa, a property of the Republic of Italy, since December 2014's
run by the Polo Museale del Lazio.
1 Architectural design
2 Garden design
3 Twentieth century
5 Further reading
6 External links
The villa seen from the garden in a photo by Paolo Monti, 1966
Villa Lante is formed by two casini (houses), nearly identical but
built by different owners in a period separated by 30 years. Each
square building has a ground floor of rusticated arcades or loggias
which support a piano nobile above. Each facade on this floor has just
three windows, alternating round or pointed pediments. Each window is
divided by pilasters in pairs. An upper floor is merely hinted at by
small rectangular, mezzanine type, windows above those of the piano
nobile. Each casino is then crowned by a tower or lantern in the
summit of the pantiled roof. These elaborate square lanterns too have
pilasters, and windows both real and blind.
Each of these casini, in their severe
Mannerist style, was built by a
different unrelated owner.
Villa Lante was first commissioned by
Gianfrancesco Gambara who gives his surname to the first
It appears that work commenced in 1566 on the right-hand (as one
enters) casino. It is thought that Gambara commissioned Vignola to
design the project (the villa is only attributed to Vignola), and
begin the work and the design of the gardens for which the villa was
to become famous. The first casino and upper garden were quickly
completed, but work was then suspended for the remainder of Gambara's
Gambara died in 1587 and was succeeded as
Apostolic Administrator of
Viterbo by the 17-year-old nephew of Pope Sixtus V, Cardinal
Alessandro Peretti di Montalto. It was this mere youth who completed
the project at Bagnaia and built the second casino. The two casini
differ most in their frescoes: frescoes of landscapes in the Gambara
and in the Montalto frescoes by a later artist in a more classical
style. In the Gambara Casino the vaulted frescoed loggias are a riot
of colour highlighting the architectural detail, while in the Montalto
Casino the principal reception room is a combination of fresco and
plaster sculpture, almost trompe l'oeil.
Pegasus fountain at Villa Lante
Fountain of the Four
Moors with the villa in the background. Photo
by Paolo Monti, 1965.
The gardens of the
Villa Lante feature cascades, fountains and
dripping grottoes. The visual and harmonious choreography of water and
the mechanical perfection of its flow was only achieved after Tommaso
Ghinucci, a hydraulics engineer and architect from Siena, was called
in; it is thought that his role was to oversee the hydraulics and
building work. Although the renowned antiquarian and architect
Pirro Ligorio was also consulted, it seems likely that the success of
the water features is due to Ghinucci's expertise which ensured that
water flows through the gardens to this day.
Fontana dei Mori by Giambologna
The Quadrato is a perfectly square parterre. The twin casini stand on
one side, on the remaining three sides the garden is enclosed by high
box hedges. In the centre, low box is sculpted and formed into
decorative patterns around small fountains and sculptures. The main
feature of this parterre is the complex fountain at its centre, formed
of four basins, separated by parapeted walks, the parapets decorated
with stone pineapples and urns that intersect the water. At the heart
of the complex, a centre basin contains the "Fontana dei Mori" by
Giambologna: four life-sized moors stand square around two lions; they
hold high the heraldic mountain surmounted by the star shaped fountain
jet, the Montalto coat of arms. This is the focal point of this
unusual composition of Casini and parterre.
In the first of the ascending terraces, lodged between two stone
staircases, is the Fontana dei Lumini ("
Fountain of the Lamps"), a
circular tiered fountain; on the ledge of each tier, smaller
fountains, imitating Roman oil lamps, spout small jets of water which
in the sunlight appear to blaze like lamp flames. Camellias, and other
ericacious flowering shrubs added in the 19th century blaze in the
shade of this terrace.
On the next (third) terrace is a large and long stone table, with a
central channel with water flowing to keep the wine cool. At the back
of this terrace, are large sculpted river gods flanking a fountain.
Directly above and supplying the water for the fountain is the catena
d'acqua or chain of water, a water feature (gioco d'acqua) that can be
seen in other 16th-century gardens (such as the
Villa Farnese and
Villa d'Este); this rill of small basins allows the water to ripple
down to arrive at the fountain between the sculpted crayfish claws, a
reference to Cardinal Gambero's heraldic device. In the meantime,
stairs flanking the catena d'acqua lead up to the next terrace.
Gardens of the Villa Lante
On the next upper terrace are yet further fountains and grottos and
two small casini called the Houses of the Muses, the sides of which
frame the large
Fountain of the Deluge that terminates the main axis
of the garden. A roughened texture has been given to the sides of
these small buildings to harmonise with the natural rough rock of the
Fountain, and water conduits set in their eaves (and operated by a
remote switch) project jets of water to complete a visual ensemble
known as the 'theatre of the waters'. The main facades of these small
casini, like their grander relations on the lower terrace, feature
Serliana loggias articulated by Ionic columns, suggesting they might
have been designed by Vignola. They bear the name of Cardinal Gambara
engraved on the cornices. One casino gives access to a small secret
garden, a garden of hedges and topiary, with a line of columns
creating an air of an almost melancholic nature.
A perspective plan of 1609 shows a wooded area of walks and vistas to
obelisks, plus a maze.
Following the demise of Lante's last cardinal owner in 1656, the villa
passed to the family of Duke Ippolito Lante, in whose family it
remained for many generations. In the 19th century the family, revived
by an American heiress Duchess, (a daughter of Thomas Davies of New
York) still lived at Lante in some style: the Gambara Casino was
lived in by the ducal family and the Montalto was reserved for their
In 1944 the gardens and casini were heavily damaged by Allied bombing
after the fall of Rome. In the late 20th century the Villa was
acquired by Dr. Angelo Cantoni, who completed a long program of
restoration. It is now part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani.
^ Coffin, David The Villa in the Life of Renaissance Rome, Princeton
University Press, 1979, p. 140
^ Coffin, 1979, p.343
^ Sitwell. Page 48
Attlee, Helena (2006). Italian Gardens - A Cultural History
(paperback). London: Frances Lincoln. pp. 240 pages.
Sitwell, Sacheverell (1961). Great Houses of Europe. London: George
Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd. ISBN 0-600-33843-6.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Villa Lante.
Villa Lante - a Gardens Guide review
Villa Lante Gardens in Bagnaia
Coordinates: 42°25′33″N 12°9′17″E / 42.42583°N
12.15472°E / 42.425