In 1998, when I first visited the Monster Gardens with Nancy we pretty much had the place to ourselves; to explore and photograph. I made a mural (40″ x 66″) silver print of Nancy standing inside this Ogre’s mouth that now hangs in our living room and can also be seen in one of my recent posts.
When planning our recent Tuscan trip with David and Barbara, revisiting and sharing the Monster Gardens was a must. So, let’s start again with this Monster’s Mouth, which symbolizes the entrance to the Underworld. Dante’s words are inscribed on the Ogre’s lips: “All reason departs”
This time more people were visiting the Sacred Wood. This time Nancy wore a white dress as she entered the mouth.
Here are 4 new interpretations taken with 3 different cameras; and the story of how the Bosco Sacro came to be known as the Monster Gardens.
The Bosco Sacro, or Sacred Wood, was originally realized in 1552 by the hunchback Prince, Pier Francesco Orsini. Vicino, as he was also known, desired this fantastical project “only to relive his heart and soul” as his wife, Giulia Farnese, had recently died at a very young age. So he hired Pirro Ligorio, a famous architect who worked on the Vatican after Michelangelo’s death, to design a garden that would inspire and astonish. 33 years later the Marvel of marvels was complete. Vicino dedicated the Bosco Sacro to the memory of his wife and for 100 years thousands of artists, poets, and men of papers from all over the world came to be inspired by this “Villa of the Wonders”. You must understand, this was not a serene garden with beautiful fountains that was typical of the region during the beginning of the Renaissance. Instead, it was surreal Mannerist style sculptures and fountains, having no symmetry whatsoever, filled with arcane symbolism. It was compared to the ancient capital of Egypt: “Memphis as well as all the other Marvels in the world gives precedence to the Sacred Wood that resembles only itself and nothing else”
Sometime after 1645, a curious thing happened… A continual lack of heirs led to the Orsini family’s demise. Somehow the gardens were forgotten by the people of Bormazo and by the people of the world. Nature itself reclaimed these monstrous sculptures. Abandoned and forgotten for over hundreds of years. Slowly, whispers became stories of haunted woods and the land itself became known as the Bosco dei Mostri. In 1938, Salvador Dali made his way through the tangle of trees and was awestruck by the grotesque surreal figures. He shot a short film in the park and his 1946 painting; The Temptation of Saint Anthony is rumored to have been inspired by his visit.
400 years later, artists were inspired again by the newly dubbed Monster Gardens. However, the monsters still lay in ruins and it wasn’t until 1953, when Giovanni Bettini purchased the Sacred Grove, that the careful restoration process began. Slowly, something ancient, something sacred, something timeless began to reveal itself to the world again.