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Varro’s Aviary at Casinum: Reconstructions from the Renaissance to the Present

Louis Cellauro, Laboratoire de Recherche Historique Rhône-Alpes, Fellow 2011/12

The topic of my research this year was the ornithon, or aviary, of the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BC) in the gardens of his villa in the Roman town of Casinum (now Cassino) and its interpretations from the Renaissance to the present. Varro’s ornamental aviary was a major monument of Roman garden design, and from the beginning of the sixteenth century it has fascinated architects, antiquarians, classical archaeologists, and philologists.

Like Pliny the Younger’s Laurentine and Tuscan villas, or Caesar’s wooden bridges over the Rhine, which are also known only through surviving literary descriptions, this garden structure has been the subject of many reconstructions. These, however, have been little studied by scholars. A comprehensive catalogue is lacking today, and many reconstructions are still unpublished. Extensive documentary research during my fellowship enabled me to gather for the first time twenty-six reconstructions with some forty drawings made by architects, antiquarians, and classical scholars, from Pirro Ligorio’s famous and influential Renaissance engraving of 1558 to the most recent reconstruction done in 2007 by the French scholar Gilles Sauron. I am now in the process of completing an article entitled “Varro’s Aviary at Casinum: Interpretations and Reconstructions in the Early Modern Period.” During my fellowship, I was able to complete another article entitled “Giuliano da Sangallo, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, and Varro’s Garden Musaeum at Casinum: New Interpretations of the Istudio/Schuola Drawings,” which has been accepted for publication in the British journal Renaissance Studies.

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