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The Sacred Grove of Bomarzo

Part 2: The Wrestling Colossi

Though the meanings of the statues in Vicino’s garden were consciously determined, their placement was not; they were carved directly from large stones as they were found in the landscape. The two massive stone figures near the original entrance of the grove must have been carved from an enormous lump of stone, and their titanic struggle certainly reflects the task of their unknown sculptor. The significance of the figures was lost for centuries - there are no records hinting at the meaning of the two colossal figures struggling, one apparently ripping the other in two. An inscription on a wall nearby however provides a clue that they may have been derived from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso:

SE RODI ALTIER GIA FV SVO COLOSSO / PVR DI QUESTO IL MIO BOSCO ANCHO SI GLORIA / E PER PIV NON POTER FO QVANT IO POSSO

(If Rhodes previously took pride from its Collossus so by this one my wood is glorified and further I can do no more than I have done)

In his poem Ariosto had compared a garden - in his case a garden of love - with the wonders of the ancient world. The standing Collosus has further been identified with the hero of the poem Orlando, who, during a particularly frenzied stage of his adventures, as he is wandering through a forest, driven mad at the loss of his beloved Angelica to another man, comes across two woodsman, one of whom he slaughters by exactly the method depicted by Vicino’s giants - he catches him by the legs and tears him in two.

The combination of these two references suggests a garden dedicated not only to divine love, but also to the violence of passion and the madness of loss, reflecting, perhaps, the state of Vicino’s mind at the loss of his wife Giulia.

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