Renaissance gardens generally used both classical and Christian symbolism. Just like the ancient villas they copied, they were symbols of otium. Literally meaning “free time,” otium slowly became an ideal, even a goal! It was a relaxation nirvana with good friends, sparkling conversation, excellent fare, and lots of invigorating fresh air. But Renaissance gardens were also associated with Eden. They were subsequently considered a terrestrial substitute for the biblical one that was lost.
The symbolism at Villa d’Este went even further, to include its homeowner and his relatives. The Cardinal’s name was tied to a myth regarding a horse-tamer Hyppolitus and the Goddess Diana. So it’s no surprise to find a fountain crowned with a statue of the Hunter Goddess! The Cardinal’s brother was named Hercules. The dumb jock of Olympus ended his labors in the Garden of Hesperides. Over one of the Villa’s many fountains, a statue of a dragon roosts over a basin: it is the dragon of Hesperides, the guardian of the classical paradise from which Hercules stole three golden apples.