My thesis presents a reconstruction of the Villa d’Este’s narrative experience, tracing the way in which geographical and mythical themes were intertwined to reconfigure the site as a new Garden of the Hesperides, where visitors followed the footsteps of Hercules’ heroic endeavors through a microcosmic vision of the surrounding Tiburtine landscape. I explore how archetypal mythic landscapes and locales of Ovid’s Metamorphoses shaped this narrative, and the intersection of text and site within the garden’s horticultural programmes. My research foregrounds the previously overlooked integrality of the planting schemes to the Villa d’Este’s ideological programmes. Whilst iconography remains significant, this thesis recenters attention on the botanical elements of the garden’s design, enabling a new interpretive approach to the garden’s narrative. My research sheds light on the experiential quality of visits to and encounters within the garden, focalised through both the semiotic and somatic experience of the strolling visitor. This results in a new understanding of how its physically immersive sensescape engaged visitors as active participants in the unfolding drama.
As part of my research I am working in partnership with Grade II listed Arts & Crafts villa Winterbourne House and Gardens to recreate an Italian Renaissance garden based upon plantings inspired by Ovid’s botany, designed by acclaimed landscape designer Kathryn Aalto. By adopting a phenomenological approach recreating the plantings of the past, I will define the garden encounter through its somatic experience, examining how the senses evoked a specific response in the visitor and are intrinsically linked with the semiotic elements of garden design.