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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art


A building of stone or wood, deliberately constructed to give the impression of an intact structure that has decayed. Ruin building was particularly fashionable in Europe in the 18th century and the later 19th. The definition can be widened to include, for example, ruinous structures created from hedges; and illusionistic painting could create ‘ruinous’ interiors, as in the Sala dei Giganti (c. 1534) at the Palazzo del Te, Mantua, by Giulio Romano. Outdoor ruins also incorporated painting to create vistas and viewpoints to be seen from a distance, and also to mask intrusive walls. Constructions such as these, however, were primarily intended as scenery, and should be classified with temporary festival buildings. Artificial ruins also make frequent use of spolia, especially in ‘medieval’ constructions; but genuine ruins were also used as spolia to endow a modern aristocratic residence with historical authenticity, their presence in the park giving them the function of artificial ruins.

Reinhard Zimmermann