Pieter Schenck

The shell fountain in the gardens of Villa d'Este

The shell fountain in the gardens of Villa d'Este by Pieter Schenck

Artwork Detail

The garden at the Villa d'Este in Tivoli was designed and constructed in the 16th century and was one of the first giardini delle meraviglie, (gardens of marvels). It was created by Ippolito d’Este during the 22 years that he was imprisoned at Tivoli under house arrest, after failing in his attempt to become Pope. His opponent, Pope Julius III, exiled him by proclaiming him Governor of Tivoli - no governor being able to leave the province over which he ruled.

Ippolito employed a number of architects, artists, hydraulic engineers and even Claude Venard, a manufacturer of hydraulic organs. Movement through the garden, with its complexity of paths, grottoes, trompe l’oeil frescoes, vistas, statues and fountains, became a humanist initiation - you entered ‘chaste’, and emerged with philosophical and spiritual knowledge gained through experience.

Peter Schenck made 12 large engravings of the gardens at Villa d’Este. The shell in this particular view was designed by Bernini, and earned the nickname Bicchierone (Great Chalice). Groups of figures stand elegantly, discussing the fountain, while peasants to the right play cards. On the left bench a dog idly cleans its behind. These figures reinforce the message that only the educated can unravel the syncretic aspects of the garden. Villa d’Este was very influential on European garden design and a number of artists made prints and paintings of its splendours.

The shell fountain in the gardens of Villa d'Este
Pieter Schenck
Production date
490 x 675 mm
Credit line
Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2005
Accession no
No known copyright restrictions
International Art
Display status
Not on display

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