Garden as Subtweet

In this episode of Monty Don’s BBC series on Italian Gardens he travels around looking at grand, opulent gardens built by wealthy, powerful cardinals to impress (naturally) the other wealthy cardinals vying for the papacy around the turn of the 16th Century. But the garden at the Villa d’Este, says Monty, gained a number of additions each time it’s owner Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, failed to ascend to the papacy. From about 4minutes 40seconds and onwards, Monty talks about the meaning, which would have been quite plain, though still in a coded kind of way, to his contemporaries:

“Behind this beauty is a nagging pain for him because the three layers of water represent the three rivers leading to Rome, and that’s of course where d’Este most of all wanted to be. In the two decades it took to construct his garden, Cardinal d’Este made five failed bids for the papal throne. And every setback, his garden got grander and grander, and the coded messages it sent out became ever more pointed.”

The picture Monty Don paints is of a member of the wealthy aristocratic class sending messages to a member of the same class through the medium of garden. I say that it’s kind of coded (even though it’s in plain sight) because his contemporaries and rivals would only ever have been able to receive the message if they ever attending, or heard about it’s construction through rumour (or boasting). Much like a subtweet, one would have to actually go to d’Este’s actual garden to receive the full message. There are obviously important differences – a garden can’t be re-tweeted, for instance – but the similarity in terms of the dynamic of communication between sender and receiver is similar, and that’s probably important.