Dr. Raffaella Fabiani Giannetto is a historian and critic. Her approach to landscape history is guided by the belief that world-wide relations across spatial and temporal scales are best discerned and studied through an accumulation of commonplaces.
Her research rests on three interrelated questions. The first one begins with Poiesis, from the Greek verb “to make,” and it is a question that examines the tools of creativity, that is, the means designers have used and use today to transform abstract ideas into material forms. Fabiani Giannetto addressed this question in her first book, Medici Gardens: From Making to Design (2008) in which she traced the transformation of place making, intended as a perfunctory activity resting on oral knowledge and vernacular practices, into a design discipline in 16th-century Florence. In the book, she argues that what is known today as the formal Italian garden is a modern invention predicated on flawed historiographical assumptions about the primacy of theory, design, and authorship. The Society of Architectural Historians recognized Medici Gardens with the Elisabeth Blair MacDougall book-of-the-year Award in 2010.
Fabiani Giannetto’s second research question is related to historiography and explores in particular how the writing of history is sometimes teleological in that it reflects an agenda that may be cultural or political. Her first essay to examine this argument is included in the volume Clio in the Italian Garden. Her work on historiography led her to study how the Italian garden was defined and understood before the 1930s not only by Italians, but also by foreigners. She therefore addressed the question of reception—her third line of inquiry—which has to do not only with the afterlife of a designed landscape, but also with understanding how a particular design method, layout, or plant material, might take on another life and other meanings once it is transferred onto cultural and geographical contexts that are different from the ones in which it originated. The result of this inquiry appears in Fabiani Giannetto’s edited volume, Foreign Trends in American Gardens (2017). Research for this book pointed to the existence of regional distinctions within gardens in Italy and also revealed a particularly strong relationship between the gardens of Palladian villas in the Veneto and the plantations of British North America.
Fabiani Giannetto’s new book manuscript, Georgic Grounds and Gardens from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, examines precisely that relationship between agricultural farms and their vernacular orchards and how the model of the Palladian productive villa, which defines Renaissance Veneto, was imported across the Atlantic after being translated and transformed by the English across the Channel. By addressing Palladio’s productive gardens and those of his English and American heirs in the context of the economic, social and religious climate in which they were created, Georgic Grounds and Gardens shows that landscape architecture is not only about the aesthetic of forms, but it is also an expression of the spirit of the times in which it occurs and a mirror of the society that engages in it.
Georgic Grounds and Gardens inspired Fabiani Giannetto’s new anthology, The Culture of Cultivation: Recovering the Roots of Landscape Architecture, which examines the role of agriculture today and aims to restore to landscape architecture a useful attention towards georgic practices that are not only at the heart of the profession, as the work of Frederick Law Olmsted in this country exemplifies, but that were also at the center of garden making as a vernacular practice, as her earlier work on Medici Gardens showed.
Research for Georgic Grounds has also led to the conception and organization of a 2021 forum on the legacy of the African diaspora in the North American and Caribbean landscape.
Dr. Fabiani Giannetto’s research has been supported by two fellowships at Dumbarton Oaks, the University Research Foundation at the University of Pennsylvania, the American Philosophical Society, the Mellon Foundation and, most recently, a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship awarded by the Folger Shakespeare Library.
“Landscapes of Slavery, Landscapes of Freedom: The African Diaspora and the American Built Environment”
Raffaella Fabiani Giannetto, Host
Think like a Historian, Imagine like a Designer: A Conversation on Landscape History and Design Education
Raffaella Fabiani Giannetto and Edward Eigen, Panelists