From Aristocrats to Autocrats: The Elite as Automata

  • Kara Reilly


If the seventeenth century adopted Descartes’s mechanical philosophy, then the eighteenth-century elite manifested it in the material world. Everywhere you look the mechanical philosophy is at play. Consider the Schloss Hellbrunn Palace Gardens in Salzburg, Austria, where an outdoor mechanical theatre stages the daily life of an eighteenth-century Austrian city (Figure 8). This mechanical theatre was commissioned by Archbishop Andreas Jakob Graf von Dietrichstein and built by Nuremberg craftsman Lorenz Rosenegger from 1748–52. One of the only extant mannerist gardens in the world, and possibly the best cared for by the Catholic Church, the original garden was designed by Italian architect Santino Solari (1576–1646) for the Archbishop Markus Sittikus von Hohenems (1574–1619) and created between 1613 and 1620.1 The garden is an extraordinary mannerist theatre staging the tensions between art and nature as delightful flirtations. In particular, nature’s water from mountain springs is harnessed by art’s machinery in order to power water games or jeu d’eau also known as giochi d’aqua or water jokes. Aristocrats and elite were actors playing together in the ornate grottos of Orpheus, Venus, Neptune, Actaeon, and those of Mirrors, Birdsong, and Ruin. The grotto of Ruin is a particularly delightful little grotto where the roof appears as if it is about to cave in at any moment and the floor seems to separate under your feet: a kind of memento mori or reminder that all things dissipate. Schloss Hellbrunn is a remarkably magical place, a palace of wonder and delights.


Eighteenth Century Generous Permission Mechanical Philosophy Pastoral Setting Rational Soul 
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