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Landscape, Architecture, and Experience in the Villa Culture of Seventeenth-Century Rome

Mirka Beneš, University of Texas, Austin, Fellow 2012–2013

My fellowship enabled me to advance work considerably on on my book manuscript, Architecture, Landscape and Experience in the Villa Culture of Seventeenth-Century Rome. Above all, it supported my primary aim for this year, to recast the book in a more comprehensive and synthetic direction, from a work of primarily social-geographical perspective to one integrating essential issues of design and experience. It was deeply regenerative, intellectually, and will have great impact on my future scholarly work and directions and on my teaching. Primary was the provision of time and respite from teaching and administration, which allowed me to do synthetic thinking, take a broad view of my topic, and restructure the book's chapters by focusing on a small number of key themes. These included the very concept of the villa garden as a designed landscape in Rome, which had evolved so much by about 1600 that Romans were at a loss about what to call it: giardino, or villa, or vigna, or parco; the relationships between garden and larger landscape in the Roman villa tradition; the role of designed plantings, especially the tree garden, in the visual-aesthetic, spatial, and emotional experience of Roman gardens, which I pursued through extensive primary research on botanical treatises in the Rare Book Room. The Dumbarton Oaks community, my fellow Fellows in all three Centers and my Director of Studies, John Beardsley, together provided valuable feedback and constant dialogue, a perfect, supportive scholarly environment. Especially enriching were my conversations about Italian gardens with Anatole Tchikine. The exceptional library and archival resources allowed me to update my book's literature and to contextualize my study: of notable importance for me were the Byzantine library materials on Late Antique and Medieval Mediterranean cities, suburbs and their countrysides--the broader historical contexts for early modern Rome. I warmly thank the librarians and archivists who continuously supported my work through new book acquisitions, the archives in the ICFA, and the Rare Book Room.