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The Uffizi Gallery was built in 1581 by Francisco de Medici. The Octagonal Room with its domed shell decorated ceiling was added in 1584 and displayed the world’s first public collection of curios. There are many important images of Venus throughout the Gallery including Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, the Medici Venus and the Venus of Urbino.” A room inside the Uffizi Gallery, Florence, complete with domed shell ceiling , dedicated to Buontalenti, creator of the Grotto Grande. Sleeping Ariadne. 2nd century AD. A sculpture admired and copied by 18th century travellers on the Grand Tour. 

Florence, Italy, revisited in order to focus on the grottoes of The Boboli Gardens. They provided inspiration for grotto designs within the 18th century British and Irish landscape features. The Madama Grotto 1553 is the earliest, designed for the Grand Duchess Eleanor.

The Grotto Grande, in the Boboli Gardens, was designed for Francesco de Medici by Buontalenti between 1556-60.It consists of 3 chambers that use marble sculptures, frescoes, stalactites , shells and corals to create fantastical anthropomorphic reliefs.



Boboli Gardens, Florence

The 3rd Grotto in the Boboli Gardens is The Moses Grotto (1635). A courtyard feature with pool, providing access to the main garden.

Moses Grotto,

Boboli Gardens, Florence

A selection of fountains in Florence relating to the shell. 

A Baroque-style residence purchased by Filippo Corsini in the 17th century. The Hall of the Nymphs was built between 1692-1700 and contains the theatrical Grotto Room designed by Antonio Ferri. Decorative embellishment uses over 32 types of exotic shells, Pietra Serena stone, tufa, red corals and coloured glass.

Villa Di Castello, Sesto Florentino, Florence was the summer residence of Cosimo I de’ Medici. The water garden and Grotto of the Flood were begun in 1538. Inside the grotto visitors were entertained by a series of water features or giochi d’acqua. Inside the main “cave” 3 rusticated chambers contain groups of carved animals while the ceiling displays intricate geometric shell patterns.

Early 17th century garden in the old Italian formal style. Expanded in the 18th century by Marchesi Capponi. The “Cabinet de Rocaille” is located close to the villa in the Giardino Segreto or private garden. It contains niches outlined with patterns of native shells. Along the far wall is a Nymphaeum dedicated to Pan with a central rusticated grotto that would once have contained a water cascade. At the far end of a Bowling Green is a large grotto dedicated to Neptune. The grotto and  decoration of pebble mosaics and shells are in need of urgent restoration.

Villa La Petraia, Castello, Florence is another of the Medici Villas owned by Cosimo I de’Medici. From 1588 the building and garden saw extensive excavation work. The Venus statue by Giambologna was moved here in the 18th century from the nearby Villa Castello. An exhibition by  contemporary artist, Eleonora Santanni, offers interesting perspectives on this Venus statue. 

Villa La Pietra, Fiesole, Florence. This 17th century residence was owned by the Acton Family from 1908- 40 and today by New York University. The exterior walls of the citrus garden contain geometric patterns of pebbles and shells. A loggia that has access from the house and is used for entertainment contains 2 classical female statues and wall features embellished with shells, quartz and pebbles.

Villa Le Balze, Fiesole, Florence

Planned in 1911 by English architects Cecil Pinsent and Geoffrey Scott for American Charles Strong and his wife, Elizabeth Rockefeller. Located beside the villa is a rusticated grotto and fountain set within a formal dual stairway. The interior is decorated with tufa, coral and shells. On either side are two mosaic walls with 4 reliefs framed with shells. Above the fountain is a statue of Venus.

Villa Salviati, Fiesole, Florence.

Early 16th-century villa and garden restored from 2000 by the Italian State. The main building now stores the Historical Archives of the European Union.  The Salviati family lived here between 1490 and 1794. The first grotto room within the garden was created in the mid-seventeenth century and decorated with stucco and rocky niches. After 1704 the second grotto compartment was added in a Baroque style with bird murals and rock and shell decoration. In the 19th century, a third room was added making this a unique garden feature spanning 3 centuries. The shell motif also appears as a dramatic architectural feature in the Music room.

The core of the present palace dates from 1485. It was bought by the Medici family in 1549 and grew as a treasure house for generations of luxurious possessions. The museum was donated to the Italian people in 1919. There are many varied images of Venus throughout the museum’s exhibits- the Venus Room in the Palatine Gallery which contains the Venere Italica by Canova. Ceilings and doors are decorated in the high baroque style using the shell motif to enhance stucco work and frescoes. All this is complimented by the Venus statue in the nearby Grotto Grande within the Boboli Gardens.

There are more historic attractions in Pisa other than the Leaning Tower as we discovered when visiting the Botanical Garden and Museum. Founded in 1543-44 by Naturalist, Luca Ghini it is the oldest University Botanical Garden in the world. The original “ Fonderia” was built in 1600 as a gift for Cosimo I de’ Medici and  maintains its original appearance. The façade is decorated with tufa and columns of pebbles and shells frame windows and the central doorway. The Medici coat-of-arms is outlined in cockles while elsewhere floral shell motifs link the building with its garden.

Palazzo Blu Museum, 

Lungarno River, Pisa

A 14th century villa with 19th century interior decoration created by the Giuli Rosselmini -Gualandi family who lived here until the 1970’s. The building is now the Pisa Foundation Art Gallery. Within the original Dining Room is a 19th century ceramic table centre piece. Finely sculptured tritons and cherubs holding scallop shells sit around an edging painted with marine life.

Isola Bella, Baroque Palace and Garden, Lake Maggiore, Italy. 
This romantic island retreat was created by the Borromeo Family, 1600- 1690. Filled with shell decoratve symbolism

18th century villa. Landscape with various retreats overlooking Lake Como. Near the main villa is a five-fingered grotto. A second grotto is in a remote cliff with the ruins of a Romanesque Church and fortification at the highest point.

'English' natural-style garden on Lake Como. Artifical grotto near entrance gates and a formal grotto within a Loggia near the main villa. Scallop fountain overlooks the forecourt.

1745. In front of the villa is a piano nobile with grotto niche. An interior ceiling mural by Lodovico Pogliaghi uses grotesques and shell motifs. Grottoes also in the garden. 

Many rooms display the collections of Guido Monzini who is buried in a vaulted 'mausoleum' in the garden. Original owners, the Visconti family, used a snake over a scallop shell as their emblem. 

Owned by the Borromeo-Litta family and used until the 18th century. The nymphaeum (1585-89) was part of a formal garden landscape. Today the shell decoration and trick fountains have been restored (1970). 

The 10 stunning fountains of Rome. See more for images and description of each fountain. 

Giardino di Ninfa, Latina, South East of Rome. 19th-century English-style landscape garden that incorporates the ruins of the medieval Village of Ninfa. It was created by Gelasio Caetani beginning in 1921 and  has been called the world’s most romantic garden.

Extraordinary fresco decoration by Jacopo Zucchi (after 1576) was uncovered in 1985 within Cardinal Ferdinand’s Medici retreat in the large internal garden of the Villa. There are views over the city and the garden has Renaissance fountains, formal grottoes and statues, including one of Venus in a walled niche. The villa had been acquired by the Medicis in 1564.

Situated near the site of the Pantheon (c33-25BC). This dates from the time of Agrippa and was restored by Hadrian. There is an entablature with shell carving, trident and dolphins – rare explicit examples for Roman times of shell images.

Poet Robert Browning added a lock of his wife Elizabeth’s hair to those of John Milton and Samuel Johnson and placed them in a silver scallop reliquary now in the Museum. A piece of John Keats’ hair was added later. There is a book of the Grand Tour from the 18th century, where visitors signed, on display.

Roman City dating back to the 4th century BC (ruins). Baths of the Seven Sages contains a mural of Venus Anadiomene. Baths of Neptune show mosaics of Tritons. Various statues of Venus in museum. 

A unique example of an early Italian 16th Century garden. Interior grotto rooms reflect the garden landscape centred around spectacular water feautures. 

Renaissance garden and Baroque villa. The most significant feature is the Teatro Della Acque or nymphaeum and semi-circular excedra which offers 5 fountains and a water feature. 

1607-25. A dramatic jeux d'eau with cascade stairway and excedra. Visited by Edith Wharton and painted by John Singer Sargent in the 18th century. In need of restoration. 

Renaissance interior links shell motifs of the classical and Christian traditions. Elijah resurrection room contrasts with the rococo decor of the Galleria del Pannini. 

1573. Interior Gregory chapel with shell hoods. The salon has 2 tufa grotto fountains with statues. Outside is a courtyard nympheaum and shell-hooded shrine in a secret garden.

Renaissance interior links shell motifs of the classical and Christian traditions. Elijah resurrection room contrasts with the rococo decor of the Galleria del Pannini. 

Became Pope's summer residence in the 16th century. Coat of arms of Benedict XVI includes a scallop shell. Interior decorative hallway uses rococo motifs.

c.1830. A picturesque park with deep canyons, natural grotto and nymphaeum (used since Roman times). Restored and landscaped by Italian National Trust.

A UNESCO World Heritage site constructed as a retreat for Emperor Hadrian during 2nd AD The Canopus was an artificial pool with a grotto temple The  ruined Temple of Venus has panoramic views of the hilly landscape.

This 16th century villa was passed to the Calderari family in 1784. The nymphaeum, Loggia, Temple of Hercules and mock fortress date from this period. Today it is an exclusive hotel. 

16th century. A park of grotesque sculptures. Owner Pier Francesco Orsini. Architect - Pirro Ligorio. Notable statue of Venus, Neptune, and a nymphaeum within a natural 'sacred wood'.

Owner: Cardinal Gambara. Mid 16th century villa with a theatrical garden of fountains and the grotto of the Deluge. A Loggia has frescoes taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses

Here can be found the 18th century sculpture of Venus Italica by Canova and other depictions of Venus are engraved on a 16th century silver platter and a 17th century drawing” Venus Nursing Cupids” by Peter Paul Rubens. 

Other finds include a late 16th century gilded bronze salt cellar “ Neptune carrying a shell” and carved shell imagery beneath window ledges on the Correr Museum, Venice.

This 10th century Venetian Gothic masterwork built-in Veronese marble is located near the Bridge of Sighs. Original home of the Doge or Venetian ruler. In the Courtyard is the Giant’s Stairway with statues of Neptune and Mars by Sansovio. Golden Stairway leading to the first floor has ceiling frescoes dedicated to Venus, a Goddess frequently associated with the political growth of  Venice.

Taormina’s picturesque setting on the coast with views of Mount Etna was an essential stop on the Grande European Tour. The Greek influence is seen in its Amphitheatre but we were more interested in St Catherine’s Church, 1600, which is partly built over the ruined Temple of Aphrodite. An Architrave reproduces the pediment of this temple while a Shell Hood behind the statue of Catherine suggests the Christian influences. The Madonna della Rocco or Church in the Rock, 1640, is built into a natural cliff that towers over the town. The grotto interior reveals a roof and walls hewn out of natural rock which contrast with the comfortable pews and Communion area. The port of Messina has a number of interesting 16th century Fountains created by Giovanni Montorsoli.

When Pompeii became a Roman colony it adopted Venus as its Patron Deity- Venus Pompeiana- hence the popular use of her image within murals and mosaics. We visited the site in January had great weather and avoided the crowds as you can see from these photos

Both Pompeii and Herculaneum were completely submerged in the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius. Still today over 75% of the town lies buried. Venus was also worshipped here and her image appears on water troughs along the main street.  Shell and mosaic decoration also adorned garden nymphaeum and wall frescoes

The National Archaeological Museum of Naples has an impressive collection of Venus statuary and mosaics from Pompeii. The shell and mosaic decoration around 4 pillars from Casa delle Colonne, Pompeii was a major discovery.

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