The villa was conceived as a summer residence for the Bishops of Viterbo and built between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for Cardinal Raffaele Riario, nephew of Pope Sisto IV della Rovere.
In 1566 Cardinal Gian Francesco De Gambara, fascinated by the place, commissioned the famous architect Jacopo Barozzi, known as il Vignola, for a project which would give form and originality to his idea. A thematic relationship exists between the park of Villa Lante and the formal garden, consisting of many fountains present in the park with elements sculpted in peperino stone and seats distributed throughout the 18 hectares allowing visitors to rest during a stroll.
The formal garden is surrounded by a boundary wall which skirts the Roman road and by terraced walls towards the park. At the top of the Deluge Grotto on the same terrace, the Dolphin Fountain is surrounded by high box hedges and peperino seats. The fountain known as ”of the Moors” is divided into four basins which hold up a boat in the centre occupied by a warrior.
Born on the 21st August 1862 in Stratford, East London, Rowe was the son of Thomas and Adelaide Rowe. The youngest of five, he had a brother George and three sisters Florence, Annie and Bella.
Rowe started work at sixteen as an apprentice lithographer (the making of plates used to print book illustrations etc.) from October 1878 for five years to 1883. He was dismissed from his first job as a lithographer in February 1884 and started his training as an artist at the Royal Institute of Painters on 4th February 1884, winning the President’s Medal for Landscapes in 1885.
At the age of 23 he started to paint professionally and by working a fourteen hour day he earned £90 in his first summer of work. For the next ten years he had a hand to mouth existence, earning approximately £100 per year while attending the Lambeth School of Art in the evenings. He was constantly helped financially by his mother and brother George and was always selling his paintings to friends and family. His worst year was 1890, when he only earned £30. However, in the 1890s he became interested in garden painting which proved more successful and in 1895 he sold a single painting for £68.
Unfortunately he suffered from consumption. To alleviate this he went abroad during the worst periods of the English winters. He painted in France and Spain but mostly in Italy.
In 1895 he spent some time in a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland and there he met his future wife – Nurse Sophy Slater – the daughter of a Baptist minister from Stow-on-the Wold in Gloucestershire. By 1899 his fortune had improved enough to persuade the Reverend Slater that he was worthy, and on 6th October 1899 he married Sophy at the Baptist Chapel at Bourton-on-the-Water.
He became extremely successful. In the summers he travelled all over the British Isles painting most of the famous gardens. In the winter he painted some of the beautiful gardens and villas in Italy, Sicily, Spain and France.
During his best years his paintings were exhibited in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London including twenty-six at the Royal Academy – twenty-four at the Royal Society of British Artists and twenty-two at the Royal Institute of Painters. Every other year he held exhibitions at either the Dowdeswell or Greatorex Galleries in London. These exhibitions were attended by many famous and titled people including Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary and Princess Alice.
It is known that Queen Mary purchased at least fifteen of his paintings over several years. The present Queen exhibited four of his paintings at an exhibition “Royal Gardens of England” which was held at Sandringham in Norfolk in 1989.
In 1907 all this good fortune enabled him to build his own house at Rusthall near. Tunbridge Wells which he named “Ravello” after his favourite place in Italy. He lived there until 1915 when the First World War put an end to his travelling abroad. As so many gardeners were lost in the fighting many of the gardens became overgrown and people stopped buying paintings. In order to survive he had to sell his treasured house and he was back to hard times.
His fortune picked up again in 1920 but this was short lived because he died of consumption on the 21st January 1922. A memorial exhibition was held in London in 1925, which was attended by Queen Mary. After this he was forgotten until the 1950’s when it became fashionable once again for people to hang paintings on their walls. He was also researched by Christopher Wood – the foremost authority on Victorian artists.