I Baroque Pastoral


  • (You Who Enter Here Put Your Mind to it Part By Part And Tell Me Then if so Many Wonders Were Made as Trickery or as Art)
  • —Engraving from the sacro bosco of Bomarzo1


1. The translation comes from Sheeler (2007).

Garden Thinking and Baroque Pastoral


The first three chapters of this book survey and cultivate the ground for my historiographical engagement with the baroque, Venice, the selected theatre practices unfolding in and around the Veneto during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and the philosophical praxes abounding there. I call this ground “baroque pastoral.” Neither fixed in place nor outfitted to a single form of logic or rationality, this ground acts as the foundation for numerous literary and theatrical works circulating through the Veneto at that time. While investigations of baroque art and pastoral theatre and poetry rarely cross paths, I suspect this missed encounter may have more to do with accepted academic disciplinary boundaries than anything else. In this chapter, artfully forgetting those boundaries, I stage a meeting between the baroque and the pastoral in order to forward the claim that baroque thinking and the artifacts and spaces produced by that thinking resonate profoundly with the pastoralia surrounding and supporting them.

Gardens express the resonance between baroque and pastoral, and both their form and content can help to uncover the genius loci of the ground on which this book’s study stands. Of the two strata (baroque and pastoral), the baroque has received more attention in writings on and thinking about gardens. Writing of the seventeenth-century German Jesuit Athanasius Kircher, Peter Davidson states that gardens, along with the library and the palace, existed as one of the crucial sites of the “elite © The Author(s) 2017

W. Daddario, Baroque, Venice, Theatre, Philosophy,

Performance Philosophy, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-49523-1_2

baroque imagination” (88). Jesuits like Kircher and Henry Hawkins, English author of the Partheneia Sacra: Or the Mysterious and Delicious Garden of the Sacred Parthenes (1633), frequently set scenes within gardens because of a perceived symmetry between the material richness and allegorical heft of actual gardens and the expansive capacities of the human mind. At the very end of his Parthenia Sacra, tells Davidson, “Hawkins sets the devout soul [of his reader] free to ramble at its own speed in the interior garden, constructed under his direction, as if it were a place now susceptible of infinite deepening, infinite recessions of new meaning, a place capable of containing everything which the devout mind can feel” (89). The baroque dimension of gardens, visible in these references as a teeming fluctuation of ideas, words, images, meanings, and materials, provides additional insight into Otto Kurz’s declaration (cited in the Introduction) that of its many meanings, the baroque may most stridently come to light as a Jesuit style.

Though much ofthis present book seeks to understand the contours of that style, it also acknowledges that a similar botanical baroque fluctuation appealed to civic institutions. Perhaps with the educational garden of the University of Padua in mind, Lucia Tongiorgi Tomasi explains that for such institutions a garden “represented in the Baroque period a teatro del mondo, a veritable microcosm, whose ambitious scope was to reflect the macrocosm in all of its richness and variety” (129). Protectors and benefactors of such institutional spaces perceived such gardens as a “public good” because of their ability to teach their visitors about the mysteries of the material world. Whether such pedagogy aided spiritual aims, as in the case of the Jesuits, or humanist aims, as in the case of the University of Padua, the garden has become a site synonymous with baroque cultural processes and events.

Gardens also crop up, however, within studies of the pastoral, which, in addition to its evocation of a specific literary heritage (which I discuss in more length in what follows), equated to both rural space and its cultivation. Half man-made, half natural, the “rural” had in Europe, leading up to the so-called early modern period, referred to a physical terrain beyond the city gates as well as to a place generated by the imagination, a place onto which elite urban dwellers projected their fears and fantasies. Tracy L. Ehrlich writes about this in “Pastoral Landscapes and Social Politics in Baroque Rome” where she cites the merger of arable land on Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s Villa Mondragone and the imaginative idyllic scenery created through the poetry about that land by Borghese’s contemporary

Lelio Guidiccioni (132). With little effort, one can picture Guidiccioni writing his poetry from the safe space of Scipione’s sumptuous gardens, renowned for their design and allegorical content. Gardens, such as those at Villa Mondragone and their poetic-literary counterparts, provided a way for individuals to bring the chaotic and frightening natural world under human control and to gain access to the divine messages that many believed God had written into the landscapes of the world (Cassen, Rural Space). In this respect, the garden was a crucial pastoral site, a merger of the sacred, the divine, the rural, and the urban. Early Humanist writers such as Petrarch (1304-1374) and Boccaccio (13131375) relied on these pastoral spaces, at once sacred and profane, as scenic backgrounds that could enhance the primary actions of their stories’ characters. Renaissance writers such as Pietro Bembo (1470-1547) and Torquato Tasso (1544-1595) drew heavily from their literary style and also from their visions of the pastoral.

Mindful of these specific historic conditions and transformations, I use the term “baroque pastoral” to connote firstly a meeting place of imagination and natural environment, arranged and undertaken for the purpose of perfecting one’s material and spiritual existence; and, secondly, a particular labor of distilling the core of nature’s beauty while simultaneously attempting to discard nature’s outer, chaotic exterior. From here, the chapter observes the baroque pastoral in action through what I call (paraphrasing Michael Marder) garden thinking. This thinking takes place in two physical environments: the garden of Valsanzibio in the Euganei Hills of Padua and the Sacred Wood of Bomarzo outside of Rome. After that, I follow the transplantation of garden thinking into literature and theatre by analyzing two archetypal works of pastor- alia: Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (c.1499) and Torquato Tasso’s L’Aminta (c.1580). These transplants illustrate a tension between art and nature, a tension that, I argue, gives form to many baroque expressions. More specifically, I am interested in the attempts through garden art and its dramatic-literary offshoots to discipline nature’s chaotic fecundity, an effort that requires a type of artistic excess. Indeed, disciplined excess underpins much of the baroque explorations in this book, but in a double sense. On the one hand, the discipline of art tames the excesses of nature (both Earth’s nature and human nature); on the other hand, the taming takes the form of wild, exuberant, and lofty expressions that seem to defy the concept of discipline altogether.

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