Social and Cultural History of the Italian Renaissance Garden


Gardens and horticulture have been a central part of human civilisation, any changes in our gardens reflect changes in the wider society and vice versa. These changes were influenced by key factors such as politics, religion, wealth, status, travel, conflict, invention and advancements in science. Ideas and thoughts about garden designs were developed by intellectuals, philosophers and the elite who spent time writing and discussing these matters with their peers. This course explores the origins of the Italian Renaissance Garden, its key features, elements and underlying principles as well as their far-reaching legacy of its Victorian, early 20th century revival.

Following the rediscovery of horticultural texts from writers such as Pliny, Cicero and Petrarch as well as the excavation of ancient sites like Hadrian’s villa, the inward-looking Medieval stance of the hortus conclusus opened up to embrace the renaissance garden which exploited open hillside positions looking out both physically and intellectually.

In this ‘rebirth’ or Renaissance the garden became an art form in its own right, a place for social and political posturing. Spurred on by their papal, ducal or political ambitions, these gardens were created by popes, cardinals, princes, and the nobility who appropriated mythical gods and heroes as representatives of themselves. Gardens were composed and read as poems. Hercules and Venus were popular figures who frequently featured in the sophisticated allegorical programmes promoted within the gardens. We will look at examples of how and why powerful patrons such as the Medici, their designers and artists were inspired by the art, literature and theories of antiquity to create these magnificent gardens between the 15th and 17th centuries. Examples will include Villa Medici at Fiesole, Villa Castello, Villa Pratolino, Villa d’Este and Villa Lante which will enable the students to appreciate how the Italian renaissance garden evolved as we place the gardens in their social and cultural context.

Programme details

Courses starts: 25 Apr 2024

Please note there will be no class on Thursday 16th May

Week 1: Introduction: Before the Renaissance

Week 2: Inspiration from the ancients.

Week 3: Resting in pleasant places: The Early Villas and Gardens

Week 4: Elements of the renaissance Garden: What, Where, How and Why.

Week 5: Setting Trends: In the Medici Style

Week 6: Conspicuous consumption: High Renaissance Brilliance

Week 7: Symbolism: A nod is as good as a wink

Week 8: Artifice versus Nature versus Civilisation

Week 9: The Renaissance Garden and Beyond

Week 10: The Renaissance of the Italian Garden

Digital Certification

To complete the course and receive a certificate, you will be required to attend at least 80% of the classes on the course and pass your final assignment. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so.


Description Costs
Course Fee £257.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:

Concessionary fees for short courses


Mrs Advolly Richmond

Advolly Richmond is a plant and social historian with an MA in garden history. She regularly presents garden history features on Gardeners' World television programme and also contributes plant history profiles on the BBC's Gardeners' Question Time. 

Course aims

To offer lively and informative sessions to introduce the study of Italian Renaissance garden history and its influences to anyone who has an interest.

Course objectives:

  • To the set the renaissance gardens we discuss firmly within their social, economic and cultural context in order to enhance the student's understanding of how and why they were created.

Teaching methods

Informal illustrated lectures and discussion. Visual sources such as garden plans, historic paintings.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • identify Italianate influences in historic garden environments.
  • have a better appreciation of the importance of the wider cultural, social and political context of garden-making during the 15th and 17th centuries.

Assessment methods

An essay of max. 1500 words. You can choose the subject of your essay from the broad range of issues covered of the course, which will be agreed in advance with the tutor.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)