Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bosco Parrasio

Ever since I started this blog I have been meaning to write a post about it's namesake, the Bosco Parrasio in Rome. I am currently editing some chapters which deal with this garden and thought why not procrastinate a little (it is Monday after all) and write a short post about it. I keep feeling I must do it justice and write something long and involved, but then I always think if I have time to write something long and involved it should be my thesis rather than my blog! Also, something short and sweet leaves the door (the garden gate) open to further posts at a later date.

Entrance Gate, always locked, sigh.

The Bosco Parrasio is source of fascination and frustration for me. I have not yet been allowed into this tiny garden in Rome as it has been 'in restauro' (under restoration) for quite a few years. But soon, hopefully. It was designed and built in 1725 by Antonio Carnevari, an architect not really known for much else.

Nicola Salvi, after Antonio Carnevari, Gianicolo Bosco Parrasio,
Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, Rome, c. 1726.

In 1689 the Arcadian Academy was formed by fourteen learned gentlemen in an open field near the Castel Sant’Angelo. The following year in the garden of the Padri Reformati behind San Pietro in Montorio on October 5, 1690 the fourteen founder members, headed by Giovan Mario Crescimbeni officially instituted the ‘Ragunanza degli Arcadi.’ The purpose of the Academy was to create and present literary compositions, to discuss the compositions and also other matters literary. They intended to meet nine times a year and would involve the performance of poetic compositions. Arcadian logic and judgement were based on a few key concepts: balance between nature and reason in the name of ‘good taste,’ between imagination and intellect, and between poetic invention and verisimilitude, in the name of ‘good sense.’ The members were interested in recovering the heritage of Rome’s golden centuries and took its name from the region in ancient Greece associated with the Golden Age. Members adopted a pseudonym as pastori or pastorelle (shepherd or shepherdess). In theory all members were counted as equals once in the garden, with no differentiation ebtween a noble, a cardinal, a musician or a simple man of letters (though we know this was not entirely the case). Famous members include Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, the architect Filippo Juvarra, the poet Pietro Metastasio, the composer Alessandro Scarlatti, Pope Clement XI and many others. The Academy still exists today as the Accademia Litteraria Italiana.

The Arcadians met out of doors and initially there was no fixed meeting point with the Academy meeting in various gardens around Rome, including the Farnese gardens on the Palatine, and the Ginnasi garden on the Aventine. The meeting place, whatever its location, was considered to evoke the Parrhasian Woods, the ‘Bosco Parrasio’, the sacred grove of Apollo located on Mount Lycaeus in Arcadia in Ancient Greece.

Zucchi after Gian Paolo Panini, View of the Arcadian Theatre in the Farnese Gardens, 1727.

The permanent garden was funded by King John VI of Portugal and laid out on the slopes of the Janiculum Hill in Rome. The curved staircase that can be seen in the drawing was built, but the two gatehouses weren't. At the top of the staircase was an amphitheatre (a structure with a long history of being associated with both garden and poetic performance) and behind this a small building called the serbatoio, a place where the records of the Academy were kept, and a place where meetings could take place in bad weather.

Jonas Akerstrom, Meeting in the Bosco Parrasio, Rome, 1788,
water colour on paper, Institut Tessin, Paris.

The garden was the subject of a study by Susan Dixon, which came out in 2006 and is a must read for anyone interested in the garden. I have been al around the outside, I even climbed through a bamboo grove in the Botanic Gardens so I could peak over the side. I look forward to seeing it when the restoration is finished.

Key Sources
Susan M. Dixon, Between the real and the ideal: the Accademia degli Arcadi and its garden in eighteenth-century Rome, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2006.

Liliana Barroero and Stefano Susinno, 'Arcadian Rome, Universal Capital of the Arts', in Edgar Peters Bowron and Joseph J. Rishel, Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2000, pp.47-77.

The amphitheatre as seen by me peeking through a gap in the wall.


  1. Dom João V King of Portugal (not King John VI of Portugal

  2. Yes, sorry he was the 5th not the 6th, but I think it is fair enough to anglicise names on an English blog. It is done all the time, especially with well known figures.

  3. Thanks för the literature tips! I too have been intrigued by the place, for architectural reasons. You are more daring than most, I've seen those bamboos and the we're massive! Had a hope to glimpse the place that way, but gave up. Now I too could have a view thanks to you!


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