I’ve been to Renaissance gardens before—and have found them to be overwhelmingly beautiful —amazing man-made paradises. But this year, this one, affected me differently.
In the small Central Italian town of Caprarola, everyone looks up at the enormous and elaborate Farnese Palace (Palazzo). No one looks down upon it. The scrappy town’s main street was reconfigured long ago to lead up the steep hill to the Palace’s elevated entrance. It appears that no expense or effort was spared to build this country home for a family that produced powerful Cardinals and Popes in the age of the Renaissance. The word “magnificent” comes to mind when you visit—and that's not a word I think about very much.The Palace itself is a giant pentagon, with three stories of elaborately painted rooms. In the center of the structure is an open courtyard. Classical and biblical references are everywhere. The frescoed ceilings are so mesmerizing that your neck hurts from all the gazing. And the circular staircase is a marvel of elegant design. Behind the Palace unfold the extraordinary gardens. A long and winding path leads to the most elaborate series of cascading fountains that you could imagine. Beyond the rushing waters you pass by huge river god sculptures, and then enter a wide maze of shrubbery, leading to an elegant casino which overlooks it all. The place is beyond belief. I wondered, how could I put this in a single drawing and feel that I’d captured it?
After a few false starts, I turned instead to trying to capture my other feeling of that day—one of discomfort. While all the man-made beauty was undeniably impressive, I must say, I walked around wincing, as much as wide-eyed. I’ll have to attribute that to the political times in which I live, here in the United States. Daily newscasts showcase ostentatious wealth and self aggrandizement. This climate has completely changed the way I looked at this Palace—an extraordinary exhibition of wealth, power and ego.
In the end, I settled into a shady corner of the gardens where I found a composition which could better illustrate what I was seeing and feeling—one that was hollow in the center.