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Home > Archive > Russell Page Archive: San Liberato

Russell Page Archive: San Liberato

At San Liberato, Page took inspiration from the remarkable view over Lake Bracciano and the romanticism of the site’s Romanesque church to create gardens completely in tune with the existing characteristics of their setting.

  • San Liberato, Pre-Project Garden Plan

    RP/1/10/12/1

    January 1964

    67 x 66 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An ink and pencil design on tracing paper dated January 1964, marked ‘San Liberato, Bracciano, Avant projet du jardin, echelle 1/500’. The earliest of the dated drawings, it shows the whole site with the church of San Liberato on the left (with its two curved apses) and the L-shaped house sitting diagonally across from it. The rectangular swimming pool and bath house can be seen on the right of the plot of land.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch of Garden

    RP/1/10/12/8

    [January 1964?]

    38 x 42 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated ink and coloured pencil design, marked ‘San Liberato 1’. Like RP/1/10/12/1, this drawing shows the entire site and is likely to have been drawn around the same time or possibly even before. The two lines radiating out from the house are presumably sight lines showing the view out to Lake Bracciano.

  • San Liberato, Colour Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/9

    [January 1964?]

    42 x 60 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated sketch in coloured ink with reference number 35 but no other information. Like RP/1/10/12/1, this drawing shows the entire site and is likely to have been drawn around the same time or possibly even before. The three lines radiating out from the house are presumably sight lines showing the view out to Lake Bracciano.

  • San Liberato, Plan of Walls, Flower Beds and Paths Between House and Church

    RP/1/10/12/2

    February 1964

    65.5 x76 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An ink and pencil design on tracing paper dated 1 February 1964, marked ‘San Liberato, Approximate plan for retaining walls, beds and paths between the house and the church, scale 1/100’ (reference number 1967-77/35/4). The upper drawing shows a suggested layout for retaining walls for the area of garden next to the church. The lower drawing is of the same section of garden with flowerbeds and paths included.

  • San Liberato, Arrangement of Retaining Walls and Paths and Beds

    RP/1/10/12/3

    February 1964

    58 x 59 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    Ink and pencil designs on tracing paper dated 10 February 1964. The drawing in the upper section is labelled ‘San Liberato, Arrangement of retaining walls for your garden, scale 1/100’; the lower drawing ‘San Liberato, Arrangement of paths and beds for your garden, scale 1/100’. The drawing is an alternative layout for the area of garden next to the church to that shown in RP/1/10/12/2.

  • San Liberato, Swimming Pool and Bath House

    RP/1/10/12/4

    April 1964

    54 x 76 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper, with ink annotations, dated April 1964. The drawing is labelled ‘San Liberato, Plan for swimming pool and bath house, scale 1/100.’

  • San Liberato, Plan for and Steps and Pool

    RP/1/10/12/6

    December 1967

    50 x 76 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated 13 December 1967, marked ‘Garden at San Liberato, Bracciano, Suggestions for steps and pool, echelle 1/50'. The rectangular raised pool (with curved edges) was designed to sit in the centre of the new rose garden, which sat beyond the lawn in front of the house.

  • San Liberato, Children's House

    RP/1/10/12/5

    March 1968

    72 x 76 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A pencil design on tracing paper dated March 1968, marked ‘Maison des enfants, San Liberato, Bracciano, echelle 1/50, 2cm=1m, Premier projet non côté’.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (1 of 21)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook of a building at San Liberato.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (2 of 21)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook of steps and the water feature in the rose garden at San Liberato.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (3 of 21)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook of the rose garden at San Liberato.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (5 of 21)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook of the front lawn at San Liberato.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (6 of 21)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (7 of 21)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook of flowerbeds at San Liberato.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (8 of 21)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook of flowerbeds at San Liberato.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (9 of 21 recto)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook of flowerbeds in the rose garden at San Liberato.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (9 of 21 verso)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook of flowerbeds in the rose garden at San Liberato.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (10 of 21)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook of the main house at San Liberato.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (11 of 21 recto)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (11 of 21 verso)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (12 of 21)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (13 of 21)

    1967

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A rough drawing from a sketchbook dated 22 August 1967.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (14 of 21)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (15 of 21)

    c.1966

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    An undated rough drawing from a sketchbook.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (18 of 21)

    January 1968

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A rough drawing from a sketchbook dated 29 January 1968.

  • San Liberato, Rough Sketch

    RP/1/10/12/10 (17 of 21)

    January 1968

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A rough drawing from a sketchbook dated 30 January 1968.

  • San Liberato, Garden Layout, Sketch Plan

    RP/1/10/12/7

    June 1977

    49.5 x 60 cm

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A dyeline plan dated June 1977, marked ‘San Liberato, General layout of garden, Sketch plan drawn from memory’ (plan 35).

  • San Liberato, Photograph of the Garden

    RP/4/3/5

    [1964]

    ©Estate of Russell Page

    A colour photographic print of the area of the garden at San Liberato next to the church, showing the layout before planting.

San Liberato, Via Settevene Palo 33, San Liberato, Bracciano, Lazio, Italy

1964 to 1968

Archive of Garden Design Ref: RP/1/10/12

I know no other garden more magical than this, so strong is the atmosphere of tranquillity, the just relationship of trees and woods to lake and mountain and sky – the simple planes of the gardens, the sloping woods and fields where even the details of more gardened sections have come together in silent harmony. (Page, “Bracciano”)

This is how Russell Page described San Liberato, in an unpublished text written in July 1979, fifteen years after he was asked to help design the garden by the owners Count Donato Sanminiatelli and his wife Maria Odescalchi. The Countess had inherited the 17-acre estate from her father, Prince Odescalchi, in 1960. Both she and her husband fell in love with the place and decided to build their country home there, enlisting architect Enrico Gentiloni Silveri to design a typically Roman villa for them. The house was built on the hillside close to the charming church of San Liberato, parts of which date back to the ninth century. From its elevated position, the house enjoyed spectacular views of the imposing Lake Bracciano and the Rocca Romana beyond.

Although Page had worked extensively in the north of Italy since the 1950s, it was only in the 1960s that he embarked on projects in Rome and the neighbouring countryside. San Liberato was amongst the first of these (the earliest of the designs dates to 1964). The drawings in the Russell Page archive collection include formal plans of the whole site and of individual areas, such as the new garden constructed next to the church, the swimming pool and pool house, and an outdoor playhouse. There is also a selection of more informal drawings from a sketchbook. Unpublished texts provide further insights into how the project evolved.

When Page arrived in 1964, the Count and Countess had already started some landscaping, as Page explained in an interview he gave in the late 1970s:

When I arrived on the scene, quite a few conifers and other trees had been planted on the hillside above and behind the house and some more on the meadow which is on the slight slope towards the lake, which has nut woods on the East. And a square lawn had been set in front of the house and below its retaining wall some long, narrow rose beds, parallel to the house. […] The first thing I did was to take this sloping bank and cross-terrace it with very low walls and a series of 18 inch wide paths, so that the three or four terraces are broken up into small beds. My idea about this was to simply make a garden in which, for instance, herbs could be grown and given the impression of a medieval garden which might correspond with the church. (“Interview with Russell Page”)

What Page does not mention are the series of retaining walls which he incorporated into the design so as to counter the natural slope of the land. At least two alternative layouts for this area were drawn up: RP/1/10/12/2 and RP/1/10/12/3. Looking at the arrangement of the flowerbeds in the photograph of the area before planting (RP/4/3/5), it would appear that RP/1/10/12/3 was the design chosen. Count Donato had a keen interest in gardening and this new garden proved to be the perfect spot to experiment with growing plants such as magnolias, hebes and daphnes. The Count and Countess also admired old-fashioned roses, and many more were added to the existing rose garden below the lawn, where Page widened the beds. Page made sure, however, that the height of the planting remained below the level of the lawn so that a visitor to the garden would discover the roses rather them see them from the house (this had the added benefit of maintaining an uninterrupted view out to the lake). At Countess Sanminiatlli’s request, a raised stone water feature was added to the centre of the rose garden (RP/1/10/12/10 (2 of 21) and RP/1/10/12/10 (4 of 21) both relate to this new fountain).

Through clever planting, Page managed to disguise many of the man-made elements of the garden. The playhouse for the children, added in 1968, was largely hidden by a double line of pleached lilacs, while the rectangular swimming pool was surrounded by laurel hedging. Even the architecture of the pool house was softened by the introduction of plants: the roof was covered in bright blue morning glory, and an abundance of fuschias in pots filled the interior.

The Count and Page continued to work together to introduce a huge variety of species at San Liberato, including Umbrella pines, American red oaks, black walnut trees, cedars, Canadian maples, Japanese cherry trees, hydrangeas, camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and foxgloves. The gardens remain famous to this day. It was evidently a project, and a working relationship, which Page found satisfying:

If I consider this garden especially good it is because we, its owners, and myself, were always alert to the nature of the place; in placing every plant. We set out paths or lawns or beds to frame or underline or try to accentuate or concentrate around the invisible presence embodied in the physical characteristics of the place. (Page, “Bracciano”)

Literature

Mongera, Daniele. I Giardini di San Liberato. Grandi Giardini Italiani, 2009.

Page, Russell. “Bracciano.” Unpublished typescript, July 1979 (Archive of Garden Design RP/3/1/3).

— “Interview with Russell Page.” Interview by MBW. Unpublished typescript, [c. 1979] (Archive of Garden Design RP/3/1/2).

van Zuylen, Gabrielle and Marina Schinz. The Gardens of Russell Page. Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2008.

Related material in the Archive of Garden Design

RP/3/1/2: Russell Page’s Notes on Gardens in Italy, Spain and Northern Europe

RP/4/3/5: San Liberato, Photograph of the Garden

Related material elsewhere

There are also several mounted colour transparencies of the San Liberato garden in the RHS Lindley Library reference collection (PAG/2/2/4; PAG/2/3/7; and PAG/2/3/16).