A Sculpture Park Blooms in an Ancient Garden

Works from the collection of Arnaldo Pomodoro shape the landscape of the Horti Borromeo in Pavia, a new biodiversity garden and sculpture park open to the public.

Arnaldo Pomodoro’s monumental 1979 sculpture “Triade,” installed in the center of artificial pond, welcomes visitors to the new Horti Borromeo park in Pavia. Image courtesy of Fondazione Arnaldo Pomodoro.

The Almo Collegio Borromeo, founded in 1561 by St. Charles Borromeo in Pavia, is the oldest college of merit in Italy still functioning today. The college was created to house promising young men who were in economic distress, a purpose that still characterizes its activities. For its foundation, two convents were suppressed and their property given to the college.

A vast urban park located within the historic centre of Pavia, between the college and the Ticino River was dedicated to the cultivation of fruit trees, vineyards and garden produce necessary for the sustenance of the college’s students. The Horti, the ancient name by which they are still called today, retained an agricultural use until the second half of the 20th century, a destination that allowed it to escape the urban sprawl of the 1950s and 1960s.

Today this place has finally been reopened to the public after a long redevelopment process. A park open to all and where natural habitats, contemporary art, ethics, equity and social inclusion are intertwined. 

The grounds include a vast naturalistic area, characterized by water trails, where various habitats have been created to promote and safeguard biodiversity. In addition, more than 3,000 trees and shrubs native to the lowland forests of the Ticino Valley (the inner municipality of Pavia is integrally included in the Lombardy Ticino Valley Natural Park) have been planted within the Horti to promote the preservation of local avifauna.

A place with a unique atmosphere that allows moments of rest from the chaos of city life by walking beside streams, spontaneous flower gardens, and beehives. The 3.5 hectares of magnificent gardens have also been transformed into a vast en plein air exhibition area housing a number of works by 20th-century masters from Arnaldo Pomodoro’s collection.

“Sole Gabbia (Sun Cage),” by Luigi Mainolfi, is one of the works featured in the sculpture park at the Horti Borromeo in Pavia. Image courtesy of Fondazione Arnaldo Pomodoro.

At the beginning of 2019, the foundation that bears his name in Milan received a somewhat cryptic email with the subject line: “a dream,” recounted Carlotta Montebello, the Foundation’s secretary general. 

The email, signed by Alberto Lolli, current rector of the Almo Collegio Borromeo, detailed the desire to activate a unique collaboration between art and nature, asking the foundation to lend monumental works that could enrich the Horti’s landscape. 

The foundation enthusiastically joined the Horti.Arte project by granting on free loan a number of works from its collection, for five years, including monumental sculptures by Arnaldo Pomodoro himself – at the entrance visitors are greeted by the giant 1979 “Triade” – but also works by Nicola Carrino, Gianfranco Pardi, Luigi Mainolfi, Mauro Staccioli and Salvatore Cuschera located alongside works commissioned by the Collegio from artists such as Ivan Tresoldi and David Tremlett.

“I am very pleased that my “Triade”, along with the works of so many other artist friends, has found their ideal location in the Horti, in harmony with their surroundings, because the ideal situation for a sculptor is to set his or her works outdoors, among the people, the houses and the everyday streets,” said Arnaldo Pomodoro. “I immediately joined, together with my Foundation, the Horti project because as an artist I have always felt the need for concrete involvement from a social point of view: going out of one’s studio, where one works and is protected, is not a choice, it is a duty. The art of spreading art is a commitment in which the Foundation firmly believes: it is a way to create and foster dialogue with the public, spread knowledge of contemporary art and cultural participation.”

The Horti are open to the public free of charge from Tuesday to Sunday, which can also be visited through an App that guides visitors to discover the beauty of the park.

Gianmaria Biancuzzi is executive editor of Milano Art Guide.