Thursday, January 31, 2013


In 1935 the artist Balthus (1908-2001) painted the 22-year-old Lelia Caetani. She belonged to the family that owned the small ruined medieval town in central Italy called Ninfa, with its streams and lakes and surrounding meadows. Ninfa had been abandoned as a functioning town for about 500 years, mainly due to local problems with malaria. It was Princess Lelia who conceived and carried through creation of a hybrid water-garden, incorporating partially standing Renaissance structures and fragments. Her American mother and her English grandmother had both married Caetanis and had begun the transformation of the gardens in the informal and romantic style that seemed most congenial to all three generations of ladies. After Lelia Caetani's death in 1977 the Giardino di Ninfa passed into the custodianship of a foundation. The gardens now open to small groups of the public on a few designated days per year.