This edited volume from Mohammad Gharipour presents research on cross-cultural influences in garden design between Renaissance-era Europe and three Islamic empires: Mughal, Safavid, and Ottoman. It begins with a prologue by D. Fairchild Ruggles that summarizes relevant work on Islamic garden traditions, including themes of poetry and metaphor, form and typology, agricultural production, environmental concerns, and gardens as agents for cultural production. The book concludes with an epilogue in which Anatole Tchikine asks whether the term “global Renaissance” allows for new perspectives on the study and comparative understanding of gardens produced by European and Islamic rulers. Between prologue and epilogue are eight essays. In comparison to Renaissance gardens of Italy, France, England, and Portugal, two of the essays explore Ottoman gardens, four look at Mughal gardens, one examines the Safavid gardens established by Shah Abbas in and around the city of Isfahan, and another considers varied gardens of Islamic geography.
The book's first essay, “Embracing the Other: Venetian Garden Design, Early Modern Travelers, and the Islamic Landscape,” by Christopher Pastore, documents the travel of several Venetians who went east from the later fifteenth through the late seventeenth centuries. Pastore discusses their observations of multiple cultures and sites in Egypt, Syria, the Indian subcontinent, Ethiopia, the Arabian desert, Baghdad, the Ottoman and early Safavid Empires, and Al-Andalus. Venetians embraced novel garden ideas derived from these cultures and applied them to the designs of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century estates in the Veneto, alongside their borrowings from the classical villa tradition. The essay includes references and plans showing how Venetian gardens were expanded and updated through the use of novel hydraulics and vegetation, and how they were influenced by illustrations of landscapes encountered by those traveling abroad. Pastore argues that Venetian gardens served as experimental nodes of transformation and change, and as sites of intellectual and aesthetic exploration, ultimately helping to diversify the Venetian economy through agricultural production. The garden became a medium of translation in Venice's embrace of cultural otherness, inspiring Venetian elites who believed that “the path to knowledge lay open to those who break the shackles of tradition” (15). In addition to offering a well-documented assessment of how Venetians engaged with other cultures and garden traditions, Pastore proposes new perspectives and suggests topics in need of further study.
In the essay that follows, “Staging the Civilizing Elements in the Gardens of Rome and Istanbul,” Simone M. Kaiser offers a comparable discussion of landscape traditions in two urban centers, Renaissance Rome and Ottoman Istanbul. In both cases, the gardens of royal residences were informed by earlier suburban gardens and villas. Kaiser examines shared characteristics in European and Ottoman garden traditions, including the planting of trees to evoke paradise on earth and the role of hierarchical garden and courtyard arrangements in villa and palace design as means of distinguishing public from private quarters. Kaiser identifies similarities between European and Ottoman practices and designs: the use of spolia, which could make gardens into showcases of power and geographical domination; the emphasis on water; and the use of slave labor in the building and maintenance of gardens (a significant if underexamined vector of cultural exchange). Despite the brevity of her analysis, Kaiser provides a fresh perspective on the value of comparative study.
In “The Art of Garden Design in France: Ottoman Influences at the Time of the ‘Scandalous Alliance’?” Laurent Paya offers a well-structured theoretical framework, original research supported by a range of sources, and a convincing argument. His essay documents possible Ottoman influences on the sixteenth-century French garden designs of the emerging “pleasure palaces,” particularly at Blois and Fontainebleau, that took the place of “fortified castles” (58). French “creative imitation” (59) led to “mimetic desire” (60; 75, n. 26) directed toward Turkish culture, which had major impacts not only on garden designs and garden traditions but also on a diverse range of artistic production, as well as the “art of memory” (73). Paya examines in detail the documentation of Ottoman gardens by French humanist scientists and discusses the employment of Ottoman and other non-Western garden specialists in French royal gardens and the resulting exchange of horticultural expertise, as well as the inspiration derived from such Oriental sources as plants, exotic flowers, herbs, and garden layouts, in addition to carpets, fabrics, ornaments, and costumes. The author incorrectly dates the Ottoman Sa'dabad garden in an endnote (75, n. 7), but this otherwise meticulously written essay is an outstanding contribution and prompts important questions about histories that cross conventional disciplinary boundaries.
Editor Mohammad Gharipour's essay, “The Gardens of Safavid Isfahan and Renaissance Italy: A New Urban Landscape?,” provides a thorough summary of Shah Abbas's building activity, mainly in Isfahan. Gharipour cites important textual and visual references, including maps, to assess characteristics of the Safavid city in relation to its European counterparts, and to examine the role of gardens as constructive components of the urban fabric. He illuminates the garden's role in alluding to historical architectural elements, considers the use of hydraulic engineering in enabling functional and aesthetic uses of water, and discusses new modes of garden-inspired visuality, where perspectival views connected surrounding landscapes and offered new types of public space.
As noted, four of the essays focus on gardens of the Mughal empire. In “‘For Beauty, and Air, and View’: Contemplating the Wider Surroundings of Sixteenth-Century Mughal and European Gardens,” Jill Sinclair discusses how early Mughal gardens related to their surroundings and compares these gardens to contemporaneous European cases such as the reconstructed Château de Gaillon and the Villa Madama. Paula Henderson, in “‘Elysian Fields Such as the Poets Dreamed of’: The Mughal Garden in the Early Stuart Mind,” considers impressions of Mughal gardens as recorded in early Stuart-era English travelers' accounts, particularly that of Peter Mundy (ca. 1596–1663). Cristina Castel-Branco's essay, “Garden Encounters: Portugal and India in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” presents her novel research documenting five viceregal gardens in Sintra, Azeitão, and Lisbon, all built after Portuguese expansion into India, and all possessing direct formal affinities with recent Mughal gardens. Her study is well supported by rich cartographic evidence, beautiful images, and reconstruction drawings.
The volume also includes a revised version of Ebba Koch's 2008 essay “Carved Pools, Rock-Cut Elephants, Inscriptions, and Tree Columns: Mughal Landscape Art as Imperial Expression and Its Analogies to the Renaissance Garden.” Koch points to lesser-known features of the Mughal landscape tradition, including the layered use of physical and metaphorical landscape elements, the employment of extraordinary design strategies similar to those of contemporary earthworks, and skillful plays with scale in various mediums. She presents these interventions as agents for mapping and territorializing Mughal landscapes and suggests comparisons with well-known allegorical designs of late Renaissance Italy, especially the Sacro Bosco at Bomarzo.
Reading Islamic garden traditions alongside European Renaissance ones, the essays in this volume offer valuable insights on the history of gardens and on space more generally, making the book relevant for scholars of architectural and urban history as well as for scholars of landscape history. The book thoughtfully and productively links garden history with these other disciplines. It is also successful in its comparative coupling of distinctive landscape traditions, and in its effort to present garden traditions not as culturally isolated phenomena but as important parts of cross-cultural discourses.
That said, while the volume's stated aim is to explore “transcontinental mutual influences” (xv) in garden design, alluding to a “reciprocal flow of ideas and concepts” (xiiv) within the framework of a “global Renaissance” (xiii), most of the essays review this flow as one-directional, mainly considering the impacts of Islamic gardens on European ones. All of the authors vividly re-create the historical settings wherein Venetians, Stuart-era English intellectuals, French humanists, and Portuguese viceroys, among others, examined Islamic garden traditions and, frequently, documented them in travel accounts. As many of the essays show, Renaissance-era Europeans sought to translate and adapt what they learned from their travels and their reading. Despite the “striking parallels” (91) and “analogous approaches” (121) discussed, the essays focus primarily on European impressions and/or translations of Islamic garden forms, traditions, and ideas, paying little attention to what Islamic designers might have learned and adapted from Europe. Readers may thus be left with the impression that Islamic cultures failed to grow from this cross-cultural engagement, or that builders and maintainers of Islamic gardens operated within static and fixed traditions. The book's historiographical classification of Islamic cultures into three imperial periods underscores this shortcoming, suggesting a conventional understanding of the Islamic world, and this reliance on standardized taxonomy risks undermining the volume's purpose.
Still, the challenging nature of this research and its goal of opening up new horizons in cross-cultural garden studies is laudable and highly valuable, and the book's limitations may be viewed as offering ideas for future research. The editor has brought together the work of scholars whose novel approaches raise new questions, paving the way for alternative, complex, and layered garden histories, histories that go beyond the limitations posed by current disciplinary boundaries and cultural constraints.