The Italian Garden: Restoring a Renaissance Garden in Tuscany

Cecilia Hewlett, Narelle McAuliffe, Paul Bangay

The Italian Garden: Restoring a Renaissance Garden in Tuscany
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The Italian Garden: Restoring a Renaissance Garden in Tuscany

Cecilia Hewlett, Narelle McAuliffe, Paul Bangay

The remarkable story of the project undertaken by Paul Bangay and Monash University to transform a neglected car park at the university’s Prato campus in Tuscany into a traditional Renassance walled garden, befitting its location.

The Italian Garden is part restoration story, part vicarious travel tale and a completely facinating story of how the discovery fifty years ago of a series of neglected and hidden fifteenth century frescos led to the creation of the stunning Palazzo Vaj garden, inspired by the water features, grottos and planting symmetry of classic Italian Renaissance gardens.


The Italian Garden is a collaborative work centred on the restoration of a traditional Italian garden at the Monash Centre at Palazzo Vaj in the heart of medieval Prato in Tuscany. Over the centuries the garden had become a rubble-strewn carpark and the current director of the centre Dr Cecilia Hewlett, was inspired by the discovery of fifteenth century frescoes in 1967 to initiate the project to restore the garden. This is delightful book that touches on a number of important and interesting themes: the significance of gardens in intellectual and creative life, the strong ties between Australia and Italy that can produce positive community outcomes, the history of the Italian garden, and the history of Prato in its Tuscan context.

Any lover of Italy and Italian culture will enjoy the taste of living in a medieval Italian Tuscan city conveyed by the contributors, and be reminded afresh of holidays or longer visits. Garden lovers will enjoy Paul Bangay’s generous involvement and Luke Mangan’s essay on the Italian Renaissance Garden. Cecilia Hewlett’s essay explores Italy’s always fascinating history of political intrigue conducted through art and holy miracles, including the betrayal of Prato by neighbouring Florence in 1512 as the Medici family sought to reinforce their power. Fans of religious artefacts will enjoy the story of the Sacred Belt – an object of popular devotion that continues to draw pilgrims to Prato today and which illustrates the ongoing devotion to the Virgin Mary in a religion that has done rather a lot to suppress and control the power of the feminine.

This is a beautifully illustrated book with excellent photography by Simon Griffiths and historical images drawn from a variety of sources that complement the text to the benefit of the reader.

Margaret Snowdon is the art & design book buyer at Readings Carlton.

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