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The Monster in the Garden: Early Modern Landscape Design and the Grotesque

Where
The Oak Room, Fellowship House
When
October 15, 2015
05:30 PM to 07:30 PM
Garden and Landscape Studies Public Lecture | Luke Morgan, Monash University

Monstrous and grotesque figures appear in many sixteenth-century Italian gardens, notably the Sacro Bosco in Bomarzo. In the past, they have been interpreted as expressions of artistic license (fantasia), the inventiveness and variety of nature, and as allusions to Classical sources such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Yet monsters feature in early modern discourses besides those of art, literature, and mythology, including natural history and medicine. This lecture proposes that the “period eye” of the early modern garden visitor would have been informed and influenced by ideas of this kind. If, as Michael Baxandall has argued, our understanding of Renaissance works of art necessitates the reconstruction of the conditions of spectatorship, which were formed by a host of extraneous activities, practices, and experiences—from barrel gauging to dancing—then a reception history of Renaissance gardens should similarly attempt to incorporate the potential interpretative equipment and experience of the historical beholder. The imaginative world of Ovid was self-evidently evoked in early modern garden design and experience, but so too, arguably, was the “juridico-biological domain,” as Michel Foucault called it, of lawyers and physicians.

Luke Morgan is a senior lecturer in art history at Monash University, Melbourne. His monograph Nature as Model: Salomon de Caus and Early Seventeenth-Century Landscape Design was published in 2007 by the University of Pennsylvania Press, and he is on the editorial board of the journal Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. His latest book investigates the themes of monstrosity and the grotesque in early modern landscape design and will be published by the University of Pennsylvania Press in 2015 as The Monster in the Garden: The Grotesque and the Gigantic in Renaissance Landscape Design. Other recent publications include the chapters on design and meaning in A Cultural History of Gardens in the Renaissance, edited by Elizabeth Hyde (Bloomsbury, 2013), and the chapter on gardens and landscape for the Oxford Handbook to the Age of Shakespeare, edited by Malcolm Smuts (Oxford University Press, 2016). His current research, which is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant, focuses on the theme of enchantment in English Renaissance literature and gardens.

Above: Sixteenth-century sculpture of a dragon, Sacro Bosco, Bomarzo. Image: Anatole Tchikine.


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