Gods in the Garden

There was an excellent turnout of 57 people for our March meeting.  We were pleased to welcome Michael Brown, a horticultural lecturer specialising in garden history.  Michael gave us an insight into why statues were placed in gardens throughout history and the myths behind them.  We travelled in time from the Temple of Apollo in the Roman gardens of Pompeii to the Sleeping Goddess at Heligan taking in, on the way, “Lampy” the garden gnome immortalised by Sir Charles Isham.

The Greek and Roman garden was a place of peace and tranquility.  It was a refuge from urban life and a place filled with religious and symbolic meanings.  Sculptures and water features depicting ancient Greek gods and scenes from Greek mythology abounded.  Michael gave as an example Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, a vast area of land with pools, baths, fountains, grottos and statues set in a mixture of landscaped gardens and wilderness.  To Hadrian it was a place of contemplation.

During the 18th Century The Grand Tour offered a liberal education to young, mostly men, of wealthy families and the opportunity to acquire, not only books and works of art, but other cultural artifacts such as statuary and fountains.  Copies of classical statues were readily available and were brought back to English country estates.  Temples and grottos seen on travels abroad were copied on return.  Sometimes they were built as a ruin but, with all of them, as usually they were to be viewed from the front, little care was taken of the back.  Examples of classical temples can be seen at Stourhead and Stowe.  Certain themes are popular amongst classical statuary, for example, many gardens have a statue of Priapus the god of fertility.  Flora goddess of flowers, Ceres goddess of crops, Bacchus god of wine and Venus goddess of love and domesticity were all used as symbols to promote harmony, well being and good fortune.  We saw slides of classical sporting figures, hunters and musicians from Rousham, Wrest Park, Buscot Park, Anglesey Abbey and Waddesdon Manor.  Vast sums of money were lavished on gardens as at Kenilworth Castle and Stowe and Michael showed examples of the lengths to which wealthy landowners would go to to impress their peers or, as in the case of  Kenilworth Castle, their Queen.

As time went by statues of classical gods gave way to statues with links to Christianity.  As the Empire grew statues depicting other religions were incorporated.  Later on country house gardens and parks were populated with statues of gamekeepers, shepherds, shepherdesses and other people who were working on the estate.  Many of these statues were mass produced and they were quite garish compared to what we see today.  Although made of stone or lead they were brightly painted and some, for example, the fountains at Versailles were gilded.  The concept of gardens as outdoor living spaces is not a new idea and now, as we go on “The Grand Tour” of country houses, we shall look with added interest and greater understanding at the statues in the temples, grottos, pleasure gardens and wilderness areas of the gardens we visit.

A selection of Michaels photos:

Please join us for our outing visit to Deene Park, Northamptonshire on Tuesday 4th July.

Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 18th April when Janet Buist will talk about The Wonderful World of Salvias.

                                                                                                     Linda Truscott

New members are always welcome.  For more information contact Linda Truscott on 01234 270747


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