To see it all – the world of Palladio – you have to imagine it all. But there are aids to the imagination both in the vivid documents quoted by scholars, and in the photographs that survive from the nineteenth century, from the days just before the agricultural revolution destroyed the old order. Not that the old photographs are themselves without their anachronisms: wisteria or Virginia creeper growing up a Renaissance villa is a botanical anachronism, and a foolish piece of planting (the rats climb up the creepers to get at the corn in the attic). The arum lilies (Zantedeschia) you see everywhere clogging the ditches of the Veneto come from Southern Africa, and are named after the North Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773–1846). The nineteenth century also saw the planting of exotic trees in English-style parks, replacing the strictly economic fruit trees the sixteenth century would have known. But still, what grips us about the old photographs when we can see them (there are none at Burlington House) is the glimpse we have of the functioning rural economy in which these crucial structures played their part, caught in the years when it was coming to an end, when the threshing machines were making their first appearance.

more from the TLS here.