Art & Architecture | Naples & Campania

Vanvitelli’s Violin: Surprising Landscape Design at Reggia di Caserta

Did you know that the landscape around the Reggia di Caserta was designed to look like a violin? Learn more about this UNESCO Heritage Site near Naples.

Reggia di Caserta from above

A thing that we take for granted is the ability to view our world from any number of perspectives at any time of day and in any season.

An aerial photograph from a helicopter or drone can go from capture to social media sensation within seconds and all we have to do is look on with awe.

I did just that with a photo that recently came across my Twitter feed. The image, a shot from a snowy day in Campania in 2019, was making the rounds on social media again.

You will have to cut me some slack for not seeing it on the first go-round. But I did take the time to investigate further.

A Dusting of Snow Reveals a Violin

The shot in question was an aerial photo of the Reggia di Caserta, the royal palace near Naples that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

An unusual snowfall had powdered the grounds of the surrounding estate, revealing that the landscape design had been shaped to look like a violin.

The original post had been published on the Facebook page of Reggia di Caserta:

Did Luigi Vanvitelli really design the grounds of the Reggia di Caserta to look like a violin?

In fact, he did!

Dichiarazione dei Disegni del Reale Palazzo di Caserta is Vanvitelli’s architectural and landscaping plans for the palace.

Published in 1756, the volume includes drawings for all of the elements of the Bourbon palace, including this violin design of the grounds.

Sketch of the landscape design for the Reggia di Caserta from Vanvitelli’s book Dichiarazione dei Disegni del Reale Palazzo di Caserta. View the archive of the book.

But why would he use a musical instrument as inspiration?

Music and musicians were always important to royal courts, who desired musical accompaniment for their religious ceremonies, secular concerts, and fancy banquets. Versailles, a model for the Reggia di Caserta, was “the nerve center of instrumental and vocal music for over a century, without a doubt producing the richest and most varied repertoire of all the courts in 17th and 18th century in Europe.” King Charles VII Bourbon wanted his palace in Caserta to rival or even outshine Versailles.

Vanvitelli’s violin design was a way to reclaim cultural relevance for Italy, where popular musical forms, such as opera, and instruments, such as the violin, had been invented.

It was a grandiose, yet subtle, way to proclaim the Bourbon palace as the new Versailles, a center of culture, music, and majestic architecture.

I say “subtle” because Vanvitelli’s violin was a design choice that was visible on paper, but not evident up close.

If you have ever visited the Reggia di Caserta, you will understand that the enormity of the estate makes it impossible to get a sense of its layout from ground level.

Seeing Old Art With New Technology

Neither Vanvitelli nor his patron Charles VII would have ever seen the violin landscape from the air. There were no vantage points high enough for them to see the entirety of the work at that time.

Both Luigi and King Charles died before the first flight demonstration of a hot air balloon in the Kingdom of Naples on 13 September 1789. And, it would be more than half a century later, in 1858, that the world would see its first aerial photograph.

Of course, snow is uncommon in Naples and its environs. So Vanvitelli never would have considered the effect of snowfall in highlighting the vines, trees, and avenues that made up his instrument.

So that’s why I was so appreciative of the viral photo of Reggia di Caserta dusted with snow. Sometimes when we are looking at art we are seeing it in a new way — often in ways the artist never dreamed of.

Last Updated: May 2, 2021

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