Ancient Greek and Roman statuary inspired the classical style of garden decoration that would remain the standard for centuries beyond both empires. Greek statuary and busts were idealized images, while Roman sculptors tended to create more realistic statues of their gods and heroes, such as Venus, the goddess of love.
The Romans introduced their classical gardens to Britain during their occupation from about the years 43 to 436. It is believed that the Romans were the first to design purely ornamental gardens, which were usually enclosed by walls or even by the house itself, to form a central courtyard. Urns, busts and sundials were among the decorative features. The Romans also enjoyed fountains, pergolas to provide shade and arbors.
The classical arts style of ancient Rome prevailed during the Renaissance. Examples of this style are the gardens and courtyards of 12th century Fontainebleau, south of Paris in France. Its design was the work of several French monarchs and subsequently, Napoleon Bonaparte. The chateau and its grounds are closely identified with King Francois I, as his preferred residence. Consider that the King called on artists and designers such as Leonardo da Vinci and Benvenuto Cellini. Work on the gardens of King Francois I took place between 1528 and 1547. An integral element was a fountain with Michelangelo's white marble sculpture of Hercules. In 1602, the goddess of hunting, Diana, surrounded by four hunting dogs, was the focus of a fountain added to the Queen's Garden.
The magnificence that was Fontainebleau made its mark on King Henry VIII of England, who set about trying to emulate its style in his own remodeling of Hampton Court Palace and grounds just outside London. One example was his Privy Garden, which was fashioned between 1530 and 1538. Henry favored brass sundials and statues of heraldic creatures on poles. By the reign of his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I in 1599, the garden also featured statues of centaurs, sirens and serving maids with baskets.
English Victorian gardens departed from the classic arts, in part because of the abolition in 1845 of a tax on glass. This paved the way for less costly greenhouses and conservatories to be built that were no longer the preserve of the wealthy. Nevertheless, Italianate terraces remained in fashion, linking the garden to the house. Urns and vases continued to be the decorative elements of choice. However, in 1860, English gardens welcomed a new arrival from Germany, the gnome. Garden gnomes have come to be considered quintessentially English, so it is interesting to note that they were originally settlers from the Continent.
Back in Time
Today, the creation of a classical garden remains a realistic possibility, thanks to an array of garden statuary inspired by historical figures of Greek and Roman times, and abundant research and information about the design and construction of ancient Greek and Roman gardens.