The Baroque garden of Schloss Waldegg near Solothurn, laid out by Johann Viktor I von Besenval in around 1700.
The Baroque garden of Schloss Waldegg near Solothurn, laid out by Johann Viktor I von Besenval in around 1700. Schloss Waldegg

Baroque gardens in Switzerland

In France the layout of the Baroque garden was subject to strict rules, and its purpose was to illustrate power and wealth. Here in Switzerland, too, members of the aristocracy and the wealthy merchant classes constructed their gardens based on the French model – albeit with good Swiss simplicity.

Julia Burbulla

Julia Burbulla

PD Dr Julia Burbulla is an art historian and carries out research at the university in the Department of History of Architecture and Monument Preservation.

Under the Sun King, Louis XIV, France superseded Italy as the dominant force in horticulture. The Baroque garden was an element of château architecture, its geometric formal style creating a continuation of the interior layout. The garden was an expression of power and prestige, but also a place of relaxation and recreation, and a setting for lavish festivities. French philosopher and writer Voltaire (1694-1778) was not a fan of the art of the Baroque garden. In his correspondence with the Prussian King Frederick II he poured scorn on the concept of the Baroque garden, preferring the English landscape garden. The spectacle of nature tamed and trimmed aroused in him not merely ennui, but actual disgust:
“Gardens planted out symmetrically, dwarf trees raised on cords, Gardens, I must flee from you; Too much artifice repels me and bores me: I prefer the broad woodlands; Nature is free and defiant, Erratic in her features, She suits my fancy.” Voltaire, 1734
In his 1759 novel “Candide, ou l’Optimisme”, Voltaire reiterated this criticism and depicted the longed-for land of “Eldorado” as a place of prolific, useful and paradisiacal nature. Interestingly, Voltaire took a less rigorous attitude in his own horticultural practice. The gardens of his estates in the Republic of Geneva and near the French-Swiss border, Les Délices (from 1755) and Ferney (from 1758), combined core elements of Baroque principles of order with “natural” zones, and integrated the culture of the kitchen garden. For Voltaire, the latter was key to ensuring the sumptuous excess of absolutist gardens à la Versailles or Schönbrunn, a subject of controversial debate, would be brought to an end. His attitude also reflected the spirit of the age. In the old Confederation, the opulent Baroque garden culture was always presented as a more unpretentious, simpler “hybrid form”. Depending on personal preference, topographical possibilities or financial resources, elements from the kitchen garden or the Italian Renaissance garden found their way into these complexes.
View of Monsieur Voltaire’s Le Délices, etching by François Marie Isidore Quéverdo, 1769.
View of Monsieur Voltaire’s Le Délices, etching by François Marie Isidore Quéverdo, 1769. Bibliothèque de Genève
Essentially, the composition of a Baroque garden consists of the château or the manorial house as the focal point, from which the central axis affords visitors to the garden a continuous view of the surrounding area. Architecture, interior decoration and garden relate and refer to one another. This symbiosis is complemented by symmetrical paths, water channels, ponds and fountains, as well as a complex hierarchy of distinct areas of the grounds consisting of parterres, sculpted bushes, galleries, patches of woodland and gravelled alleys for strolling. All elements of the design are defined by geometric shapes, circles, ovals, triangles, squares, etc., and are often enhanced with sculptures of mythological figures.
The geometric and carefully symmetrical French garden is a place for outward display, and a paradigm for the European Baroque garden. View of the garden of the Palace of Versailles.
The geometric and carefully symmetrical French garden is a place for outward display, and a paradigm for the European Baroque garden. View of the garden of the Palace of Versailles. Swiss National Museum
A Baroque garden stretching almost to the horizon: Maximilian de Geer’s “Nymphenburg Palace from the Munich side”, c. 1730.
A Baroque garden stretching almost to the horizon: Maximilian de Geer’s “Nymphenburg Palace from the Munich side”, c. 1730. Victoria & Albert Museum
The early examples from Solothurn, Bern and Neuchâtel were carefully modelled on these aspects of garden design, while at the same time adapting them to their own specific requirements. For example, in the terraced gardens of Schloss Blumenstein in Solothurn, there is no unobstructed view. The garden of Schloss Waldegg combined French and Italian influences: the layout of the pathways and the symmetry are French; the fountain grottoes and the shaping of the terrain reflect Italian concepts. For reasons of space, later structures in French-speaking Switzerland were more likely to integrate the existing cultivated landscape than those in German-speaking Switzerland or in the surrounding countries.
Undated draft plan for a country estate with gardens. Drawing by Erasmus Ritter.
Undated draft plan for a country estate with gardens. Drawing by Erasmus Ritter. Burgerbibliothek Bern
Garden salons and garden rooms are also evidence of similar Swiss adaptations in the late Baroque period. Walls and ceilings draw the observer into illusionistic architectural tableaus and outdoor scenes, taking up once again the layouts of the exterior space. This creates an overall spatial arrangement of architecture, interior and garden design that emphasises the owner’s political clout and economic power. A prime example of this is the banqueting hall of Schloss Hindelbank in the canton of Bern, dating from 1725. The objective is not merely the visual representation of an absolutist demonstration of power in the style of Louis XIV; it’s about presenting an aristocratic way of living, including a sophisticated artistic lifestyle.
The garden is continued in the interior décor: banqueting hall at Schloss Hindelbank, c. 1725.
The garden is continued in the interior décor: banqueting hall at Schloss Hindelbank, c. 1725.
The garden is continued in the interior décor: banqueting hall at Schloss Hindelbank, c. 1725. Eduard Widmer

Further posts

Address & contact
Swiss National Museum
Landesmuseum Zürich
Museumstrasse 2
P.O. Box
8021 Zurich
info@nationalmuseum.ch
www.nationalmuseum.ch

Design: dreipol   |  Realisation: whatwedo
Swiss National Museum

Three museums – the National Museum Zurich, the Castle of Prangins and the Forum of Swiss History Schwyz – as well as the collections centre in Affoltern am Albis – are united under the umbrella of the Swiss National Museum (SNM).