My life was diversified by visits to picture galleries, and at the age of six Botticelli was my favorite painter, and I would ransack all the picture-postcard shops for reproductions of his works. No picture delighted me more than the ‘Primavera’, and I hated Savonarola when I heard that he had stopped Botticelli from painting; on the other hand I idolized Lorenzo the Magnificent who had been the artist’s patron, and thus began my interest in the Medici.
Harold Acton, Memoirs of An Aesthete, 1948, p.18

Villa La Pietra’s lush gardens provided a sanctuary for exploration and contemplation, while its walls bore witness to the timeless beauty of Medieval and Renaissance art. In this idyllic setting, Harold and William’s artistic sensibilities flourished, nurtured by the rich tapestry of experiences woven into their daily lives. Both Harold and William recognized early on the profound lessons that this surrounding environment could impart, as eloquently expressed by Harold: “Thus I did not have to look far to discover beauty, nor was there any need for me to rove beyond the garden gates” (Acton 1948, 7).

Harold and William found themselves immersed in a world where tales of far-off lands mingled with the daily delights of Renaissance Revival gardens and priceless masterpieces adorning their home. At the heart of their upbringing was a profound appreciation for the arts instilled by their parents. The Actons understood the importance of nurturing their children’s curiosity, frequently taking them on visits to Florentine museums. Many family excursions were planned around Italy and on to France, Germany and Egypt to discover the richness of art and culture. This early exposure laid the foundation for Harold and William’s lifelong fascination with artistic expression.

William Acton’s artistic inclinations found expression in his early endeavors, influenced in part by the illustrated works he encountered in the family library. Among these, the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley held a special allure, their distinct style leaving an indelible mark on William’s own artistic activitiess. In particular, the Beardsley illustrations found  in both Oscar Wilde’s novels and other  works represent distinct artistic styles that are mirrored in William’s own early works. Growing up at the Villa, the children were exposed to fairy tales and children’s stories that similarly impacted their later adult interests and inspirations. In his Memoirs, Harold makes special note of Hans Christian Anderson’s, Nightingale, as his introduction to Eastern cultures. Harold, who described himself as an aesthete, sought to enjoy the universal beauty of the world, influenced by his childhood surrounded by an abundance of art, beauty, and nature.

The Acton siblings’ legacy lives on in our appreciation for their home and for their written and figurative creative production. By exploring beauty throughout the boys’ early life, the viewer can catch a glimpse of both the struggles and triumphs as they attempt to live within a Renaissance revival aesthetic while the world around them marches forward toward the brink of war.

– Kayla Zur

Exploring Beauty Through Art and Nature