This essay doesn’t intend to provide a catalogue of ‘interesting’ benches scattered around celebrated gardens of the world. It proposes rather an interdisciplinary journey across the history and logic of some relevant benches – relevant in order to understand the way in which benches orient, teach, create emotions and, most important of all, direct our ‘ways of seeing’ operating in the garden. The bench acts in other words as a powerful visual machine and regulates the reception of the landscapes it has to offer to its visitors.
The starting point of this promenade is a once famous and extremely powerful bench in Ermenonville, the picturesque garden north of Paris built by the Marquis de Girardin in the second half of the 18th century, than Lenin’s favourite bench in Gorki, near Moscow. The photographs taken of Lenin, his family and his visitors in 1923-1924 at his datcha circulated only after his death. An infamous fake photograph with Lenin and Stalin united on a bench had an equally strong effect and found its way even into Life Magazine. Lenin’s bench, linked at the same time to a major iconographic tradition in Russia (Puskin on the bench, Tolstoy on a bench, etc.), continued its iconic journey in several important films (Vertov, Chiaureli).
Another aspect presented in the book is the literary and artistic representation of the bench. Adalbert Stifter and Jean-Paul Sartre are the main sources for the written representation, while Manet, Monet, van Gogh, Liebermann etc. help to have a deeper insight into the scopic implications of the bench. In the final part of the study cinema is again present, especially Michelangelo Antonioni. The book ends with reflections on the function of benches in the public space and in contemporary landscape architecture.