Villa Giulia. From the beautiful to the sublime.

15 photographic interventions

The Villa Giulia in Palermo is the oldest public garden in Italy. Designed in 1778, it has suffered greatly: of the twenty-two busts adorning it, fifteen have been decapitated. The very concept of the garden as a work of art is thus disrupted, tilting from the beautiful to the sublime in a way which I undertake through my own interventions to show that it may constitute a powerfully meaningful passage.

On a first level, every public garden is thought out as the reconciliation of architecture and nature, combining the reality of urban space to the ideality of idealized nature. For anyone strolling into the Villa Giulia, the walking tempo slowly settles down into a feeling of airy suspension. The leisurely peregrination subtly changes into an initiatory journey, prompted by pervading yet understated masonic suggestions of cosmic harmony. Visitors are unknowingly nudged out of their customary sense of spatiality to experience another dimension which is all passage and no definite destination. The ideal garden offers invisible gateways leading both to experiences of inner peace as well as outer vistas where art and nature resonate together in harmony. This is the essence of Kant’s judgement of the beautiful, i.e. the harmonious operation of the mind’s various faculties as it judges at the occasion of an aesthetic experience.

However, at a second level, the mutilation of the Villa Giulia statues constitutes a horrific sight which exiles the ideal of beauty into the sublime as it ruptures the very harmony of faculties; this, according to Kant, must necessarily produce some spiritual meaning beyond the first shock and demise of the mind as it confronts the irreversible.

My intervention, i.e. staging the decapitated busts to let the sublime significance unfurl, is essentially an artistic statement. The wounds and stigma do remain as they are, unadulterated, while they may be apprehended in a reconciled perspective drawn from the vantage point of the intact and the ideal.

This work benefits from the collaboration of the historian of art Justyna Gajko-Berckmans and of the philosopher Frank Pierobon. It has been the subject of a publication in French.

Includes 15 digital prints 59,7×84,1cm

Emmanuel Muraille

Kit de présentation en français

Kit di presentazione in italiano


Villa Giulia. Du beau au sublime. Quinze interventions photographiques.

Language : french
58 pages