Luke Morgan
Monash University, Melbourne


Volume 6, April 2024   


The 1666 catalogue of the Wunderkammer assembled by Lodovico and Manfredo Settala in Milan contains a description of a ‘beautiful statue of bronze’ that could walk across a garden. According to the author of the catalogue, Pietro Francesco Scarabelli, ‘because of the stupor [stupore] that such a motion occasions, whoever begins to observe it is rendered immobile.’ Scarabelli is clearly describing an automaton, the uncanny lifelikeness of which has the paradoxical effect of rooting the viewer to the spot, temporarily incapable of movement or agency. Historians have paid little attention to the automata of the early modern garden. When automata are discussed, they are usually dismissed as inconsequential giochi or scherzi (games or tricks). This essay makes a case for taking the automata of the garden seriously, with a particular focus on Francesco de’ Vieri’s comments about those of the Villa Medici (now Demidoff) at Pratolino in his guide of 1587. There are two main trajectories of argument: first, that the lifelike, self-moving automaton should be understood in relation to the theory of mimesis in art; and second, that the condition of stupore that Scarabelli and Vieri both claim is elicited by the inexplicability of mechanical movement is primarily an aesthetic experience. The essay concludes with the suggestion that the liminal status of the automaton – between nature and culture – extends to the garden itself.

Automata, early modern gardens, Francesco de’ Vieri, mimesis, artificial grottoes



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The Edgar Wind Journal 6: 128-143, 2024
DOI: 10.53245/EWJ-000033
Copyright: © 2024 L.Morgan. This is an open access, peer-reviewed article published by Bernardino Branca