Villa Gamberaia


The oldest notice of the “place called Gamberaia” dates back to the second half of the fourteenth century when a farmhouse belonged to the nuns of S. Martino a Mensola. The name probably referred to the presence of freshwater shrimp (“gamberi”) in local ponds or streams. At the end of the fourteenth century the property was purchased by Matteo di Domenico Gamberelli, father of the famous sculptors and architects Antonio and Bernardo Gamberelli, surnamed Rossellino. In 1610, the new owner Zanobi Lapi completed the construction of the manor house and in the following decades his nephews laid out the main areas of the gardens.

Located in the hills of Settignano, in a splendid panoramic position overlooking the city of Florence and the Arno valley, Villa Gamberaia stands on the site where documents of the late 1300s attest the presence of a farmhouse belonging to the convent of S. Martino a Mensola. At the beginning of the fifteenth century, the farm was bought by Matteo di Domenico, whose sons, Bernardo and Antonio Rossellino were among the most famous architects and sculptors of the time. The name of the area, can probably be traced back to the name ‘gamberi’, fresh-water shrimp caught in nearby ponds or streams.

At the beginning of the 1600s, Zanobi Lapi, a wealthy and cultured Florentine merchant, who made his fortune in the manufacture and trade of luxury fabrics, bought the villa and started the construction of the main house, exploiting, in part, existing foundations. It is to him and his two nephews that we must also attribute the principal areas of the garden and the ingenious system of water conduits and fountains. A century later, the estate, which now comprised about fifteen farmhouses, passed into the hands of the marchesi Capponi. Thanks to the renovations and embellishments they carried out, the villa soon entered the list of the most beautiful Florentine villas. In a contemporary plan of the estate (c.1725-30) and in the engravings of Giuseppe Zocchi (c.1744) we can clearly see the elements that still characterize the villa: the two longitudinal axes, oriented from north to south , the entrance drive lined by rows of cypress trees and the long garden avenue, the bowling-green, the transversal axis, running from east to west, through the cabinet of rocaille (rustic cabinet), flanked by groves of oaks, the upper terrace with its lemon-house and, at the southern end, the sophisticated French parterre complete with aviary and “garenna” or “island of the rabbits”. Adorning the grottoes and walls of the gardens are statues, busts of the four seasons and urns.

The last intervention in the garden, and the only one carried out in the modern era, was the transformation of what remained of the old parterre de broderie located south of the villa thanks to two talented owners: the Romanian princess Catherine Jeanne Ghyka, née Keşko, sister of Queen Natalia of Serbia, who designed the famous parterre d’eau (started in the period 1896-98) and the American Matilda Cass Ledyard, baroness von Ketteler, who gave the garden the predominantly “evergreen” character and the architectural forms (c.1925-1935) that we can still admire today.

After its partial destruction during the II World War, in 1954 the villa was bought by the Italian industrialist Marcello Marchi, whose family owned other historic residences in Tuscany. It was he and his wife Nerina von Erdberg who undertook the enormous task of rebuilding the house and restoring the gardens, immortalized in their renewed glory in the photographs of BalthazarKorab (1966). In 1994, the ownership of the villa passed to their daughter Franca († 1998) and her husband Luigi Zalum, who continued the work of conservation and restoration. Formerly from the Serbian principality of Zahlum (today Herzegovina) the Zalum family is known for its mercantile and banking activities in the city of Livorno since the early 1700s.


Villa Gamberaia



SHGDL = Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, ed. J. Dixon Hunt.
RG = Revisiting the Gamberaia: An Anthology of Essays, ed. P. J. Osmond. Florence: Centro Di, 2004, repr. with additions and revisions, 2014.

I. Studies on the Villa Gamberaia
Anthologies of essays and journals
Osmond, Patricia, guest editor. Villa Gamberaia: Sources and Interpretations. SHGDL 22 (2002).
Includes essays on the Gamberaia by M. Bevilacqua, M. Fagiolo, M. Gahtan, M. Caputo, P. Osmond, V. Cazzato (see section II below).
______________, ed., Revisiting the Gamberaia (henceforth RG).
Includes historic essays on the Gamberaia (1901-1973) by Janet Ross, Edith Wharton, E. March Phillipps (with photos by Charles Latham), H. Inigo Triggs, Henry V. Hubbard, Geoffrey Jellicoe (with drawings by J.C. Shepherd), Georgina Masson, and Harold Acton, with Introduction, prefaces to each essay, and notes.
(For the original editions of these essays, see individual entries in section III below.)

Guides and Introductions
Pozzana, Mariachiara. Villa Gamberaia. Florence: Edizioni Casalta, 2015.
Text in Italian and English.

Collections of photos
Korab, Balthazar. Gamberaia. Photo essay, with text by Harold Acton. Florence: Centro Di, 1971.

Osmond, Patricia.“Villa Gamberaia: interpretive text,” Catena, The Digital Archive of Historic Gardens and Landscapes, The Bard Graduate Center (New York),
(c. 2005).

Recent articles and essays
Bevilacqua, Mario. “Towards a History of the Villa Gamberaia: Issues of Patronage,” SHGDL 22 (2002): 4-16.
Caputo, Margherita. “The Gardens of the Gamberaia: Permanence and Change,” SHGDL 22 (2002): 56-67.
Cazzato, Vincenzo. “The Rediscovery of the Villa Gamberaia in Images and Projects of the Early 1900s,” Villa Gamberaia: Sources and Interpretations, SHGDL 22 (2002): 80-99.
Fagiolo, Marcello. “The Garden of The Gamberaia in the Seicento: The Mysteries of the Waters, the Elements and Earthquakes,” SHGDL 22 (2002): 17-33.
Gahtan, Maia. “Standing on a Garden Wall or Assembling in a ‘Rustic Cabinet’: Seasonal Statuary at the Villa Gamberaia,” SHGDL 22 (2002): 34-55.
Kinnard, Judith. “The Villa Gamberaia in Settignano: The Street in the Garden,” Journal of Garden History 6 (1986): 1-18.
Osmond, Patricia. “‘L’Anima della Villa Toscana’: Gabriele D’Annunzio at the Gamberaia, 1896 and 1898,” SHGDL 22 (2002): 68-79.
Pozzana, Mariachiara. “Classicismo e tradizione nell’opera di Porcinai,” in I giardini del XX secolo: l’opera di Porcinai, ed. M. Pozzana. Florence: Alinea, 1998. (Gamberaia, 139-56, at 141)
____________. “I primi restauri,” in Giardini parchi paesaggi, ed. G. Pettena, P. Pietrogrande, M. Pozzana. Firenze: Le Lettere, 1998. (Gamberaia, 44-46)
____________. “Restauri in stile e progetto del ‘nuovo’ a Firenze (1900-1940),” in La memoria, il tempo, la storia nel giardino italiano fra ‘800 e ‘900, ed. V. Cazzato. Roma: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca, 1999. (Gamberaia, 307-09)
Simonini, Gian Luca. “Il giardino di Gamberaia e l’addizione di Catherine Jeanne Ghyka,” Storia urbana 85 (1998): 151-70.
Zangheri, Luigi. “Pietro Porcinai e La Gamberaia,” in I giardini del XX secolo: l’opera di Pietro Porcinai, ed. M. Pozzana. Firenze: Alinea, 1998, 131-138.
____________. “Islamische Einflüsse in der Europäischen Gartenkunst am Beispiel der Villa Gamberaia,” in Historische Gärten heute, ed. M. Rohde and R. Schomann. Leipzig: 2003, 52-57.

II. Historic Essays on the Villa Gamberaia (articles, chapters, monographs)
Acton, Harold. “Introduction” in Gamberaia. Saggio fotografico di Balthazar Korab. Testo di Harold Acton. Firenze: Centro Di, 1971.
____________. Tuscan villas, con fotografie di Alexander Zielcke. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1973. (Gamberaia 144-46; ripr. in RG, 81-86)
Borsig, Arnold von. Die Toscana. Landschaft, Kunst und Leben in Bild. Vienna: Verlag Anton Schroll & Co., 1948. (Gamberaia, 29 e tavole)
Dami, Luigi. 1l Giardino italiano (esemplare N. 3965). Bestetti Tumineli, 1924. (Gamberaia, tav. CCXLVII – CCLIII)
Gromort, Georges. L’art des jardins: une courte étude d’ensemble sur l’art de la composition des jardins d’après des exemples empruntés à ses manifestations les plus brillantes. Parigi: A. Vincent, 1922. (Gamberaia, 1: 32 e tavole, vol. 1-2)
Hotz, Walter. VILLA GAMBERAIA in Settignano bei Florenz. Zum sechzigsten Geburtstag des Verfassers herausgegeben und mit einer Bibliographie versehen von Gisela Siebert. Monaco di Baviera: Ernst Hermann Verlag, 1972.
Hubbard, Henry V. “Note-Taking in Italian Gardens. Villa Gamberaia,” Landscape Architecture 5 (ottobre, 1914, luglio, 1915) 57-66, 57-58. Si veda anche Hubbard’s “Italian Garden Theaters,” Landscape Architecture 4 (ottobre 1914, luglio 1915), 53-65. (ripr. in RG, 57-64)
Jellicoe, G. A. “Villa Gamberaia,” in Shepherd, J. C. e G. A. Jellicoe, Italian Gardens of the Renaissance. Londra: Ernest Benn, 1925. Si veda anche la sua “Foreword” (prefazione) alla quarta ed. Londra/New York, 1986, ripr. nella quinta ed. New York, 1993. (estratti in RG, 67-69)
____________, in Shepherd, J. C. and G. A. Jellicoe, Gardens & Design. Londra: Ernest Benn Ltd, 1927), 111-22; ripr. in Geoffrey Jellicoe. The Studies of a Landscape Designer over 80 years, vol. 2. Gardens & Design. Gardens of Europe. Woodbridge, Regno Unito: Garden Art Press, 1995), 81-91. (estratti in RG, 70-72)
____________, Geoffrey Jellicoe. The Studies of a Landscape Designer over 80 years. Vol. 1. Soundings. An Italian Study 1923-1925. Woodbridge, Suffolk, Regno Unito: Garden Art Press, 1993, 26-27. (estratti in RG, 69-70)
Lensi Orlandi, Giulio. Le Ville di Firenze di qua d’Arno. Firenze: Vallecchi Editore, 1954, ripr. 1978. (Gamberaia, 121-22)
March Phillipps, E. In Charles Latham, The Gardens of Italy, with Descriptions by E. March Phillipps, 2 vols. Londra: Country Life. Ltd. e George Newies Ltd., Southampton, 1905. (Gamberaia, 2:113-25; repr. in RG, 37-48).
Masson, Georgina. Italian Gardens. Londra: Thames & Hudson, 1961. (Gamberaia, 82-84 e nota, 276; ripr. in RG, 73-80)
_______________. Giardini d’Italia. Milano: Garzanti, n.d. (traduzione in lingua Italiana da Italian Gardens, 1961).
Ross, Janet. Florentine Villas. Londra: J. M. Dent & Co. e New York: Dent & Dutton. (Gamberaia, 116-19; ripr. in RG, 24-30)
Triggs, H. Inigo. The Art of Garden Design in Italy. Londra: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1906. (Gamberaia, 83-84; ripr. in RG, 2005, 49-56)
Wharton, Edith. Italian Villas and Their Gardens, with Pictures by Maxfield Parrish. New York: The Century Co., 1904; ripr. New York: Da Capo Press, 1976. (Gamberaia, 41-48; ripr. in RG, 31-36)
Zach, Leon Henry. “Seeing the Italian Villas,” Landscape Architecture 12 (ottobre, 1921 a luglio, 1922): 29-39.

III. Photographs, watercolor paintings and Prints

Korab, Balthazar. Gamberaia. Saggio fotografico, testo di Harold Acton. Firenze: Centro Di, 1971.
Pirani, Federico. Una stagione a Villa Gamberaia: acquerelli. Roma: Gangemi Editore, 2011.
Scarry, Huck. Diario toscano. Milano: Mondadori, 1998. Gamberaia, 28-31)

On the etchings (1744) of Giuseppe Zocchi, si veda:
Bevilacqua, Mario, ed. Giuseppe Zocchi, Vedute delle Ville e d’altri luoghi della Toscana. Firenze: Editoriale Artemide, 2010. (Gamberaia, 14 e tavole 45-47)
Tosi, Alessandro. Inventare la realtà: Giuseppe Zocchi e la Toscana del Settecento. Firenze. Banca Toscana, 1997. (Gamberaia, 95)

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