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Gardens of the Heavens: Astronomy and the Science of Time in Early Modern Gardens

Denis Ribouillault, Université de Montréal, Fellow 2017–2018, Fall

My project was concerned with how scientific culture, especially astronomy, found material expression in early modern gardens. To avoid separating the epistemological culture of gardens from their material history, I used as points of departure the many sundials that adorned those gardens. I wrote a methodological paper on my approach to landscape architecture (“Paysage, jardin, architecture, peinture: la logique d’un emboîtement”) and two articles on sundials in gardens. The first focused on the early modern notion of ingenuity and wonder in the garden. Using the example of polyhedral and floral sundials set in gardens, I studied the coniugium (union) between mathematics and the natural world on the one hand, and, on the other hand, between a Platonist ideal of the cosmos versus Aristotelian poiesis. Finally, in “Sundials, the Cosmos and the Poetics of Time in the Villas and Gardens of the Renaissance,” I tackled the question of astral influence in early modern gardens. Via a dozen case studies from Italy and Europe, I showed that sundials are only one element of a web of interconnected images and objects related to the sun and the stars that articulate a discourse on time, fate, and fortune.