The Monumental complex of Valsanzibio was brought to its contemporary magnificence in the second half of the Seventeenth Century by the Venetian noble Giovani Francesco Barbarigo, assisted by his sons Antonio and Gregorio. In fact, it was this last son, the first-born, Gregorio—Cardinal and Bishop of Padua and future saint—who inspired the symbolic meaning of the plan drawn by Luigi Bernini— the top Vatican architect and fountain expert. The then Cardinal Gregorio Barbarigo, as the result of a solemn ‘vow’ made by his Father to our God in 1631 (see bottom note 1), desired the garden of Valsanzibio to be a monumental, symbolic pathway to perfection; a journey that brings man from the false to the truth, from ignorance to revelation.
This exceptional example of baroque gardens consists of more than 60 statues which were engraved in Istria stone by the Merengo (see bottom note 2). There are also many other different minor sculptures that integrate into a world of architecture, streams, waterfalls, fountains, small ponds, water games and fish ponds; all positioned among hundreds of different trees and plants, over an area of more than 10 hectares. Furthermore, inside the monumental complex and representing an essential stage within the itinerary of salvation, there is the centuries-old Boxwood Labyrinth, the symbolic Hermit’s Grotto, the Rabbit Island and the Monument to Time.
The symbolic design of the garden, realised between 1665 and 1696, with its abundant beauty, its unusual amusements and the key message decreed by its Founder, ranks it as one of the most vast and complete historical gardens in the world. It was awarded with the first prize as ‘The Most Beautiful Garden in Italy’ in 2003 and as the third Most Beautiful Garden in Europe in 2007. The merit of this goes to the unceasing and careful attentions provided first by the Nobili Homini Barbarigo, throughout the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, by the Nobil Homo Michiel in the Nineteenth Century, then later, by the Conti Martinengo da Barco, at the beginning of the Twentieth Century by the Conti Donà delle Rose and finally, from 1929 by the current owners, the Nobili Pizzoni dei Conti Ardemani.
1) In 1631 the Barbarigo family, who already owned most of the land in Valsanzibio, even if they had yet to create the garden (1665-1696), took refuge in this location to escape the Black Plague outbreak that raged in Venice and the rest of Europe and that had already killed Lucrezia Lion, wife of Zuane Francesco Barbarigo. Under these circumstances, Zuane Francesco made a solemn ‘vow’ to God that, if the rest of his family would be spared from this terrible disease, then he would marvellous to commemorate and glorify the might of God. The first-born son, Gregorio, took this solemn ‘vow’ upon himself and as such wanted the garden of Valsanzibio to have an entertainment purpose, but, above all, have a spiritual objective.
2) Enrico Merengo, (Vestfalia, 1628 – 1723, exact date of birth and death unknown), once considered Flemish, is today identified with good certainty as the Vestfalia German sculptor Heinrich Meyring. His work as a sculptor is well known in Venice between the years 1679-1714. He is considered the best pupil of the Flemish sculptor Giusto Le Court (from Wikipedia) – In Valsanzibio: the garden contains seventy statues made by Henry Merengo, all of which have engraved inscriptions on their supports and among this we mention the personification of Time and the statues of Endimione, Argo, Tifeo and Polifemo.