Ninfa is an English landscape garden and at the same time an archaeological park located in the south-west countryside of Rome, in the Pontine area. The ancient city of Ninfa can be traced back to Roman times, when it was probably a religious center dedicating to worship the goddess Nymph. During the Middle Ages, the city of Ninfa was built as a residential center with a double city-wall. The Caetani family took the lordship of Ninfa, also the surrounding areas and cities nearby, like Cisterna, Sermoneta, Fondi, etc., since the end of the thirteenth century. Unfortunately, the city was abandoned and depopulated due to the conflicts within the Pontine area. Even though, the Caetani has built the fortress and castle with the iconic high tower, and a walled garden by the side of Lake of Ninfa, during this sparsely populated period. After a long-time declination, from the end of nineteenth century, Onorato Caetani and his English wife Ada Bootle-Wilbraham decided to take their children to Ninfa, and since then the Caetani started their regeneration of this mysterious site of ruined medieval constructions covered by the ivies and other wildly growing vegetations. With the drainage and reclamation of Pontine marshes (bonifica di Agro Pontino) - although this project had been promoted many times in history, the most recent operation, promoted by the Mussolini government in the 1930s, finally helped the pontine area out of the shadow of swamps and plagues - Gelasio Caetani together with his mother Ada started to plant cypresses, stone pines, roses, bamboo and other garden plants on this abandoned site. Afterwards, Roffredo Caetani with his American wife Marguerite Chapin, and their daughter Lelia Caetani with her English husband Hubert Howard, step by step, transfered the whole site into an archeological and picturesque English landscape garden, with incredibly a wide variety of exotic trees, flowering shrubs, herbs, in perfect coexistence with the medieval ruins. The year 2020, the garden of Ninfa, has just celebrated its centenary. After the passing away of the last Caetani, Lelia, and her husband, who was following her ten years later, the gardening and administration of the entire area was passed to Fondazione Roffredo Caetani. Garden of Ninfa, as a historic garden, according to the definition given by the Florence Charter 1981, is properly a “living” monument, with all the garden plants perishable and renewable. Moreover, the ruins of medieval remains on the site, as they are intimately co-living with the vegetation, are effected undoubtedly by the living cycle of the plants. As time goes by, like the landscape structure determined by the urban model, which was shaped in harmony with the ruined city, can be maintained and preserved, but it must also be admitted that many things have changed during this process: some medieval structures that we have found in the historical photos of Ninfa may have already been lost or permanently changed and perhaps they will never be able to be restored. But in the other way, thanks to these garden plants, we may experience much more things than a mere archeological site, like the enhanced sense of vicissitudes, the echoes of Roman epoch mythical stories and the legends, and even something more, like the reminding of reconsideration of the relationship of human activities and nature in a expended temporal and spatial coexistence. So when we confront with the complexity of understanding and conservation of Ninfa, we have to consider seriously, both the common problems of archeological sites and historic gardens, and the balance of co-living of these two, even to pay attention to how to not destroy the delicate atmosphere of the coexistence of them. In the same time, we have to face the gradual, maybe tiny but unstoppable elapses of the architectural ruins, which is not merely a technique problem of the working mothed of surveying, documenting and restoring of the ruins, or gardening work. In my dissertation I proposed that we should explore more conservation concepts and questions about the value of monument and vegetation in this unique case. That’s why I try to do a comparative study on the idea of “Yi-jing” in the traditional Chinese gardens, which means not to see the similarities and differences of garden of Ninfa and characters of the Chinese garden, but to try to imagine a new prospective of interpretation of Ninfa, therefore through the lens of “Yi-jing”. I got this idea from the differentiated concept, called a passage from "l'Etre" to "Vivre", which I borrowed from the French philosopher François Jullien, as “l’Etre” refers the usual deterministic approaches to examine the historic and aesthetic value of a monument in the western context, while “Vivre” refers to the typically Chinese “Yi-jing” fluid approach. This is to try to understand, thanks to the comparison, how a human being situated in the site of Ninfa, to use himself or herself as an agent capable of interpreting the spirit of the site and the dialogue between the viewer and the surrounding space. The first concept examines the "being" of monuments, their authenticity; while the other perceives the "living" experience, flowing, in the site, therefore the spiritual and emotional resonance between the human and the place. The main part of the dissertation consists of three parts. The first part, generally reveal the history of the Ninfa, in the transformation from a religious site, to a military and residential city, and finally an English Landscape garden. The second part, and the majority of the research focuses on the interpretation of the historical site and the garden of Ninfa from the perspective of the difference and the passage from "l'Etre" to "Vivre". The four chapters explore the garden at different spatial-temporal scales and dimensions. First of all, thanks to the dedication of the last generations of the Caetani, the garden of Ninfa settles on a rich fund of the ancient family, taking advantage of the contemporary socio-economic situation of the family, of Rome, and the surroundings of the site. So this section intends to explore the social conditions of Rome evolving at that time, and the connections of different family members with Ninfa, some of which perhaps not so obvious or not so directly influencing the garden formation process, but really unignorable. The second section of the chapter is extended to a larger scale, that is, considering Ninfa defined as an English garden, it attempts to explain how the taste for the "picturesque" penetrated into the European and English system of landscape gardening and the landscape itself, and especially how such a taste came up to the family and to the Ninfa site. It should be noted that the "picturesque" here in Ninfa may be different from that of the English garden theory that we already know, and may take on its own uniqueness due to the local conditions and the material situation of the site. The third section of this chapter is dedicated to the study of Ninfa and of the vegetation from the point of view of the overall history, in particular as regards the exchange of plants from China. The discussion of global exchange is also the material basis for a possible parallel exchange and reference of ideas which will be discussed in the following section. In today's highly developed academic situation of information exchange, it is not a certain fact that the exchange of ideas between different countries and cultures cannot take place without material exchanges, or in other words, it is not certain that material exchange should be a necessary prerequisite for cultural exchange. But now that there is already a material exchange on the cultivation of garden plants, it is worthwhile to look with a new lens or try a new approach to cultural and garden interpretation. The last section of the second chapter is focusing on this new approach, to try to re-reading the garden and the local imagination of the site, to find possible new connections between the viewers and the site, to enrich the significance and value of Ninfa, and to enrich the viewers themselves. The third part of the dissertation focuses on the theoretical treatment of the conservation and restoration of the historical-artistic garden and of the landscape. Both Italy and China have their own long tradition in the appreciation and conservation of the historic garden. But as a result of modernization and westernization, the legislation and working method of garden conservation have been strongly influenced by the general worldwide standards of conservation theory, and in this China is a typical example, but not the only one. Thanks to the research carried out in the previous part, when we come back to think about the theoretical problems of the "living" monumentality of the gardens, despite the investigation into the authenticity of the site and the living conditions of the garden plants, we can add a new way of inspecting the value of the place, of observing and perceiving the "Yi-jing" of the site, exploring the relationship between the viewer and the site, and we can find a more flexible and spiritual attitude to understand and restore the garden, so that the viewers can have a dialogue and a connection with the site.

Ninfa è un giardino paesaggistico all'inglese e al tempo stesso un parco archeologico che si trova nella campagna sud-ovest di Roma, nell'area pontina. L'antica città di Ninfa può esser fatta risalire temporalmente all'epoca romana, quando probabilmente era un centro religioso dedicato al culto della dea Ninfa . Durante il medioevo la città sorse come centro residenziale con una doppia cinta muraria. La famiglia Caetani assunse la signoria di Ninfa, anche dei dintorni e delle città vicine, come Cisterna, Sermoneta, Fondi, ecc., fin dalla fine del XIII secolo. Purtroppo la città fu abbandonata e spopolata a causa dei conflitti all'interno dell'area pontina. Anche se i Caetani hanno costruito la fortezza e il castello con l'iconica torre alta e un giardino murato sul lato del Lago di Ninfa, durante questo periodo il luogo scarsamente popolato. Dopo un lungo declino, dalla fine dell'Ottocento Onorato Caetani e la moglie inglese Ada Bootle-Wilbraham decisero di portare i propri figli a Ninfa, e da allora iniziò la loro attività di rigenerazione di questo misterioso sito di rovine medievali coperte dalle edere e da altra vegetazione selvatica. La bonifica delle paludi pontine (bonifica di Agro Pontino) promossa dal governo Mussolini negli anni '30 (nonostante questo progetto fosse stato promosso più volte nella storia) ha finalmente aiutato l'area pontina a uscire dall'ombra delle paludi e delle pestilenze. Gelasio Caetani insieme alla madre Ada iniziò a piantare cipressi, pini cembri, rose, bambù e altre piante da giardino in questo sito abbandonato. Successivamente, Roffredo Caetani con la moglie americana Marguerite Chapin, e la figlia Lelia Caetani con il marito inglese Hubert Howard, passo dopo passo, hanno trasformato l'intero sito in un pittoresco giardino archeologico all'inglese, con un'incredibile varietà di alberi esotici, arbusti fioriti, erbe aromatiche, in perfetta simbiosi con le rovine medievali. L'anno 2020 il giardino di Ninfa ha compiuto il suo centenario. Dopo la scomparsa dell'ultima Caetani, Lelia, e del marito, che la seguirà dieci anni dopo, l'attività di giardinaggio e amministrazione dell'intero compendio passò alla Fondazione Roffredo Caetani. Il Giardino di Ninfa, in quanto giardino storico, secondo la definizione data dalla nella Carta di Firenze del 1981, è propriamente un monumento “vivente”, con tutte le piante del giardino deperibili e rinnovabili. Inoltre, i resti medievali presenti nel sito, in quanto intimamente conviventi con la vegetazione, sono indubbiamente condizionati dal ciclo di vita delle piante. Col passare del tempo il nucleo del giardino, come la struttura paesaggistica determinata dal modello urbano, che è stato plasmato in armonia con la città in rovina, può essere mantenuto e conservato, ma bisogna anche ammettere che molte cose sono cambiate durante questo processo: alcune strutture medioevali che abbiamo trovato nelle foto storiche di Ninfa potrebbero essere già andate perdute o modificate perennemente e forse non potranno mai essere restaurate. Ma d'altronde, grazie alle piante del giardino, si possono sperimentare molte più cose di un semplice sito archeologico, come il senso accresciuto delle vicissitudini, gli echi di storie mitiche di epoca romana e le leggende, e anche qualcosa di più, come il ricordo e la riconsiderazione del rapporto tra attività umane e natura in una dimensione temporale e spaziale convissuta. Quindi, quando ci confrontiamo con la complessità della comprensione e della conservazione di Ninfa, dobbiamo considerare seriamente sia i problemi comuni dei siti archeologici e dei giardini storici, sia l'equilibrio del vivere insieme di questi due, e anche porre attenzione a come non distruggere la delicata atmosfera della loro coesistenza. Allo stesso tempo dobbiamo affrontare i trascorsi graduali, forse minuscoli ma inarrestabili delle rovine architettoniche, una cosa che non è solo un problema tecnico di lavoro di rilevamento, documentazione e restauro delle rovine o lavori di giardinaggio. Con la mia tesi di Dottorato ho proposto di esplorare più concetti di conservazione e mi sono posta domande sul valore del monumento e della vegetazione in questo caso unico. Ecco perché ho pensato di fare uno studio comparativo sull'idea di “Yi-jing” nei giardini tradizionali cinesi, il che significa non vedere le somiglianze e le differenze del giardino di Ninfa e dei caratteri del giardino cinese, ma provare a immaginare una nuova prospettiva dell'interpretazione di Ninfa, attraverso la lente di “Yi-jing”. Ho ricavato questa idea dal concetto differenziato e dal passaggio da “l'Etre” al “Vivre”, che ho preso in prestito dal filosofo francese François Jullien, poiché “l'Etre” rimanda ai consueti approcci deterministici per esaminare il valore storico ed estetico di un monumento nel contesto occidentale, mentre "Vivre" si riferisce all'approccio fluido "Yi-jing" tipicamente cinese. Questo per tentare di capire, grazie alla comparazione, come un essere umano si trovi nel sito di Ninfa, per usare se stesso come agente in grado di interpretare lo spirito del sito e il dialogo tra lo spettatore e lo spazio circostante. Il primo concetto esamina l'“essere” dei monumenti, la loro autenticità; mentre l'altro percepisce l'esperienza “vivente”, scorrevole, nel sito, quindi la risonanza spirituale ed emotiva tra l'umano e il luogo. La parte principale della tesi si compone di due parti. La prima parte tratta generalmente la storia di Ninfa, nella trasformazione da un luogo religioso, a una città militare e residenziale, e infine a un giardino paesaggistico all'inglese. La seconda parte, e la maggior parte della ricerca, è incentrata sull'interpretazione del sito storico e del giardino di Ninfa secondo la prospettiva della differenza e del passaggio da "l'Etre" a "Vivre". I quattro capitoli esplorano il giardino a diverse scale e dimensioni spazio-temporali. In primo luogo, grazie alla dedizione delle ultime generazioni dei Caetani, il giardino di Ninfa si insedia su un ricco fondo dell'antica famiglia, e si avvale della contemporanea situazione socio-economica della famiglia, e di Roma, e dei dintorni del sito. Quindi questa sezione intende esplorare le condizioni sociali a Roma in evoluzione in quel momento, e le connessioni di diversi membri della famiglia con Ninfa, alcune delle quali forse non così evidenti o non influenti così direttamente sul processo di formazione del giardino, altre realmente irriconoscibili. La seconda sezione del capitolo è estesa a una scala più ampia, ovvero, considerando Ninfa definita come un giardino all'inglese, tenta di spiegare come il gusto del "pittoresco" penetrato nel sistema europeo e inglese del giardinaggio paesaggistico e del paesaggio stesso, e soprattutto come un tale gusto è arrivato fino alla famiglia e nel sito di Ninfa. Bisogna fare attenzione al fatto che il "pittoresco" qui a Ninfa può essere diverso da quello della teoria del giardino inglese che già conosciamo, e può assumere una sua unicità a causa delle condizioni locali e della situazione materiale del sito. La terza sezione di questo capitolo è dedicata allo studio di Ninfa e della vegetazione dal punto di vista della storia complessiva, in particolare nello per quanto riguarda lo scambio di piante dalla Cina. La discussione sullo scambio globale è anche la base materiale per un possibile parallelo scambio e riferimento di idee che verranno discusse nella sezione seguente. Nell'odierna situazione accademica altamente sviluppata dello scambio di informazioni, non è un fatto certo che lo scambio di idee tra Paesi e culture diverse non possa avverarsi senza scambi materiali, o in altre parole, non è accertato che lo scambio materiale debba essere un prerequisito necessario per lo scambio culturale. Ma ora che c'è già uno scambio materiale sulla coltivazione delle piante da giardino, vale la pena di guardare con una nuova lente o provare un nuovo approccio all'interpretazione culturale e del giardino. L'ultima sezione del secondo capitolo è incentrata su questo nuovo approccio, per provare a rileggere il giardino e l'immaginario locale del sito, per trovare possibili nuove connessioni tra i visitatori e il sito, per arricchire il significato e il valore di Ninfa e per arricchire gli stessi spettatori. La terza parte della tesi è incentrata sulla trattazione teorica della conservazione e del restauro del giardino storico-artistico e del paesaggio. Sia l'Italia che la Cina hanno una propria lunga tradizione nel piacere e nella conservazione del giardino storico. Ma a seguito della modernizzazione e dell'occidentalizzazione, la legislazione e il metodo di lavoro della conservazione del giardino sono stati fortemente influenzati dagli standard mondiali della teoria del restauro, e in questo la Cina è un esempio tipico, ma non l'unico. Grazie alle ricerche volte nella della parte precedente, quando torniamo a pensare ai problemi teorici della monumentalità “abitativa” dei giardini, nonostante dall'indagine sull'autenticità del sito e sulla condizione abitativa dei giardini, possiamo aggiungere un nuovo modo di ispezionare il valore del luogo, di osservare e percepire lo “Yi-jing” del sito, esplorando il rapporto tra lo spettatore e il sito, e possiamo trovare un atteggiamento spirituale più flessibile di intendere e restaurare il giardino, in modo che lo il visitatore possa avere un dialogo e una connessione con il sito.

Garden of Ninfa, from “l’Etre” to “Vivre” -- A case study of the Garden of Ninfa, and a confrontational interpretation of the garden via the traditional idea of the garden in the Chinese culture / Jin, Xiaomin. - (2023 May 24).

Garden of Ninfa, from “l’Etre” to “Vivre” -- A case study of the Garden of Ninfa, and a confrontational interpretation of the garden via the traditional idea of the garden in the Chinese culture

JIN, XIAOMIN
24/05/2023

Abstract

Ninfa is an English landscape garden and at the same time an archaeological park located in the south-west countryside of Rome, in the Pontine area. The ancient city of Ninfa can be traced back to Roman times, when it was probably a religious center dedicating to worship the goddess Nymph. During the Middle Ages, the city of Ninfa was built as a residential center with a double city-wall. The Caetani family took the lordship of Ninfa, also the surrounding areas and cities nearby, like Cisterna, Sermoneta, Fondi, etc., since the end of the thirteenth century. Unfortunately, the city was abandoned and depopulated due to the conflicts within the Pontine area. Even though, the Caetani has built the fortress and castle with the iconic high tower, and a walled garden by the side of Lake of Ninfa, during this sparsely populated period. After a long-time declination, from the end of nineteenth century, Onorato Caetani and his English wife Ada Bootle-Wilbraham decided to take their children to Ninfa, and since then the Caetani started their regeneration of this mysterious site of ruined medieval constructions covered by the ivies and other wildly growing vegetations. With the drainage and reclamation of Pontine marshes (bonifica di Agro Pontino) - although this project had been promoted many times in history, the most recent operation, promoted by the Mussolini government in the 1930s, finally helped the pontine area out of the shadow of swamps and plagues - Gelasio Caetani together with his mother Ada started to plant cypresses, stone pines, roses, bamboo and other garden plants on this abandoned site. Afterwards, Roffredo Caetani with his American wife Marguerite Chapin, and their daughter Lelia Caetani with her English husband Hubert Howard, step by step, transfered the whole site into an archeological and picturesque English landscape garden, with incredibly a wide variety of exotic trees, flowering shrubs, herbs, in perfect coexistence with the medieval ruins. The year 2020, the garden of Ninfa, has just celebrated its centenary. After the passing away of the last Caetani, Lelia, and her husband, who was following her ten years later, the gardening and administration of the entire area was passed to Fondazione Roffredo Caetani. Garden of Ninfa, as a historic garden, according to the definition given by the Florence Charter 1981, is properly a “living” monument, with all the garden plants perishable and renewable. Moreover, the ruins of medieval remains on the site, as they are intimately co-living with the vegetation, are effected undoubtedly by the living cycle of the plants. As time goes by, like the landscape structure determined by the urban model, which was shaped in harmony with the ruined city, can be maintained and preserved, but it must also be admitted that many things have changed during this process: some medieval structures that we have found in the historical photos of Ninfa may have already been lost or permanently changed and perhaps they will never be able to be restored. But in the other way, thanks to these garden plants, we may experience much more things than a mere archeological site, like the enhanced sense of vicissitudes, the echoes of Roman epoch mythical stories and the legends, and even something more, like the reminding of reconsideration of the relationship of human activities and nature in a expended temporal and spatial coexistence. So when we confront with the complexity of understanding and conservation of Ninfa, we have to consider seriously, both the common problems of archeological sites and historic gardens, and the balance of co-living of these two, even to pay attention to how to not destroy the delicate atmosphere of the coexistence of them. In the same time, we have to face the gradual, maybe tiny but unstoppable elapses of the architectural ruins, which is not merely a technique problem of the working mothed of surveying, documenting and restoring of the ruins, or gardening work. In my dissertation I proposed that we should explore more conservation concepts and questions about the value of monument and vegetation in this unique case. That’s why I try to do a comparative study on the idea of “Yi-jing” in the traditional Chinese gardens, which means not to see the similarities and differences of garden of Ninfa and characters of the Chinese garden, but to try to imagine a new prospective of interpretation of Ninfa, therefore through the lens of “Yi-jing”. I got this idea from the differentiated concept, called a passage from "l'Etre" to "Vivre", which I borrowed from the French philosopher François Jullien, as “l’Etre” refers the usual deterministic approaches to examine the historic and aesthetic value of a monument in the western context, while “Vivre” refers to the typically Chinese “Yi-jing” fluid approach. This is to try to understand, thanks to the comparison, how a human being situated in the site of Ninfa, to use himself or herself as an agent capable of interpreting the spirit of the site and the dialogue between the viewer and the surrounding space. The first concept examines the "being" of monuments, their authenticity; while the other perceives the "living" experience, flowing, in the site, therefore the spiritual and emotional resonance between the human and the place. The main part of the dissertation consists of three parts. The first part, generally reveal the history of the Ninfa, in the transformation from a religious site, to a military and residential city, and finally an English Landscape garden. The second part, and the majority of the research focuses on the interpretation of the historical site and the garden of Ninfa from the perspective of the difference and the passage from "l'Etre" to "Vivre". The four chapters explore the garden at different spatial-temporal scales and dimensions. First of all, thanks to the dedication of the last generations of the Caetani, the garden of Ninfa settles on a rich fund of the ancient family, taking advantage of the contemporary socio-economic situation of the family, of Rome, and the surroundings of the site. So this section intends to explore the social conditions of Rome evolving at that time, and the connections of different family members with Ninfa, some of which perhaps not so obvious or not so directly influencing the garden formation process, but really unignorable. The second section of the chapter is extended to a larger scale, that is, considering Ninfa defined as an English garden, it attempts to explain how the taste for the "picturesque" penetrated into the European and English system of landscape gardening and the landscape itself, and especially how such a taste came up to the family and to the Ninfa site. It should be noted that the "picturesque" here in Ninfa may be different from that of the English garden theory that we already know, and may take on its own uniqueness due to the local conditions and the material situation of the site. The third section of this chapter is dedicated to the study of Ninfa and of the vegetation from the point of view of the overall history, in particular as regards the exchange of plants from China. The discussion of global exchange is also the material basis for a possible parallel exchange and reference of ideas which will be discussed in the following section. In today's highly developed academic situation of information exchange, it is not a certain fact that the exchange of ideas between different countries and cultures cannot take place without material exchanges, or in other words, it is not certain that material exchange should be a necessary prerequisite for cultural exchange. But now that there is already a material exchange on the cultivation of garden plants, it is worthwhile to look with a new lens or try a new approach to cultural and garden interpretation. The last section of the second chapter is focusing on this new approach, to try to re-reading the garden and the local imagination of the site, to find possible new connections between the viewers and the site, to enrich the significance and value of Ninfa, and to enrich the viewers themselves. The third part of the dissertation focuses on the theoretical treatment of the conservation and restoration of the historical-artistic garden and of the landscape. Both Italy and China have their own long tradition in the appreciation and conservation of the historic garden. But as a result of modernization and westernization, the legislation and working method of garden conservation have been strongly influenced by the general worldwide standards of conservation theory, and in this China is a typical example, but not the only one. Thanks to the research carried out in the previous part, when we come back to think about the theoretical problems of the "living" monumentality of the gardens, despite the investigation into the authenticity of the site and the living conditions of the garden plants, we can add a new way of inspecting the value of the place, of observing and perceiving the "Yi-jing" of the site, exploring the relationship between the viewer and the site, and we can find a more flexible and spiritual attitude to understand and restore the garden, so that the viewers can have a dialogue and a connection with the site.
24-mag-2023
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