The Villa Medici

Explore Map

Explore Map



With S. to the Villa Medici—perhaps on the whole the most enchanting place in Rome. The part of the garden called the Boschetto has an incredible, impossible charm; an upper terrace, behind locked gates, covered with a little dusky forest of evergreen oaks. Such a dim light as of a fabled, haunted place, such a soft suffusion of tender grey-green tones, such a company of gnarled and twisted little miniature trunks—dwarfs playing with each other at being giants—and such a shower of golden sparkles drifting in from the vivid West! ... I should name for my own first wish that one didn’t have to be a Frenchman to come and live and dream and work at the Académie de France. Can there be for a while a happier destiny than that of a young artist conscious of talent and of no errand but to educate, polish and perfect it, transplanted to these sacred shades?...What mornings and afternoons one might spend there, brush in hand, unpreoccupied, untormented, pensioned, satisfied—either persuading one’s self that one would be “doing something” in consequence or not caring if one shouldn’t be.

—Henry James, Italian Hours, 205–206

Contained in one of the sketchbooks that Degas carried with him during his Italian sojourn (1856–59), this view over the gardens of the Villa Medici to the Villa Borghese beyond is precisely dated: 6:00 p.m. on 6 February 1857. The small size, the summary quality of the drawings, and Degas’s notations produce an effect of great immediacy. The composition consists of three tightly compressed horizontal planes: the foreground (corresponding to the formal garden of the Villa Medici), the middle ground (depicting the Villa Borghese beyond the parapet), and the background, defined by the undulating profile of the distant mountains. The elegant silhouettes of umbrella pines and cypress trees provide vertical accents that frame the composition and bind it together.

Edgar Degas, View of the Villa Borghese from the Gardens of the Villa Medici, 1857. The Morgan Library & Museum, purchased by the Board of Trustees of the Morgan Library & Museum in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Victor Thaw. Photography by Graham S. Haber

Location photography by John Pinto