In 1598 a small villa was bequeathed to Pope Clement VIII, who intended it as a holiday residence; he handed the inheritance, with other revenues, to his nephew, Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, with the encouragement to complete the work quickly, and it was largely finished by 1603. The result was the most grandiose, symmetrical and homogeneous of the villas of Frascati, in which the example of Mannerist forerunners was transformed into a prototype of the great Baroque villas of the seventeenth century. The design, by Giacomo della Porta, included such influential details as the oval ramps below the entrance façade, the pediments dominating the latter'’s skyline and, especially, the superimposed columned loggias of the garden front.
The principal element of the new work, however, was the great Teatro delle Acque (called after the statues in the hemicycles of niches, which were designed to spout water and play flutes on command by means of a special hydraulic system designed by Giovanni Guglielmi). Although probably part of della Porta'’s original plan, it was executed to the designs of Carlo Maderno and Giovanni Fontana, following della Porta's death in 1602, under the direction of Orazio Olivieri of Tivoli. Behind the villa a large arcaded exedra at the foot of the hill frames waterworks, and a cascade plunges down the hillside, rushing through the central arch of the exedra into a large basin. Two large, spiral columns that stand above the cascade represent the Columns of Hercules at the limits of the Classical world. They symbolize the expansion of the Catholic Church under Pope Clement VIII and Cardinal Aldobrandini. Other allegories are depicted throughout the villa and gardens: Atlas bearing the World in the central niche of the Teatro delle Acque alludes to Pope Clement, while the statue of Hercules about to help him, to Cardinal Pietro. The Hesperidian nymphs, echoed here by Robert's bucolic washerwoman, recall that mythological and paradisiacal garden, and, through transposition, the enchantments of the Aldobrandini gardens. All the numerous waterworks of the gardens were supplied by an aqueduct presented to Cardinal Pietro by Duca Giovanni Angelo Altemps of the Villa Mondragone, who was eventually ruined by the cost.
From 1615 to 1621 the rooms at both ends of the exedra were lavishly decorated, the one on the left being a chapel dedicated to Saint Sebastian and that on the right a temple of the arts, the Room of Apollo, containing an artificial Mount Parnassus with the winged horse Pegasus in a water-basin below it, designed thus to compare Parnassus, sacred mountain of the Muses, with the Frascati hills, and the Sun God by extension with Cardinal Aldobrandini. On the mount were wooden automata of Apollo and the nine Muses playing their musical instruments accompanied by a water-organ beneath, all operated by hydraulic power. Domenichino was commissioned to fresco a room adjacent to the water theatre with ten scenes from the Life of Apollo (1616-18; four panels in situ, the remaining six London, National Gallery). The pavilion in the south-western corner of the park contained the famous Roman fresco that came to be known as the 'Aldobrandini Wedding', now in the Vatican Museums, Rome.
A painter, draughtsman, etcher and landscape designer, Hubert Robert was one of the most successful and prolific landscape painters in 18th century France. He specialized in architectural scenes in which topographical elements derived from the monuments of ancient and modern Italy and France were combined in often fantastic settings.
In 1754, Robert moved to Rome in the entourage of the Comte de Stainville, who had been appointed French Ambassador to the Holy See, where he was to remain for the next eleven years. By 1759 he had been made pensionnaire of the Académie de France in Rome, then under the directorship of Charles-Joseph Natoire. In this he was supported by Madame de Pompadour's brother, the marquis de Marigny, directeur des bâtiments du Roi and future foreign minister. This level of support ensured his success in the Eternal City, which at that time was also home to Robert's friend Fragonard, as well as the architectural painters, Giovanni Paolo Pannini and Piranesi.
Robert returned to Paris in 1765, taking with him drawings of Italian buildings and landscapes that were a source for his paintings for many years after. Between 1767 and 1802, he exhibited regularly at the Salon, and was given lodgings in the Louvre in 1778, where he remained until 1802. In this period he painted some of his finest Italian landscapes including the Portico of Octavius, Rome and the Portico of Marcus Aurelius, Rome, both of 1787 (Paris, Louvre). He also presented in a series of sketches, his plans for replacing the Grande Galerie of the Louvre for the purposes of the museum. After the Revolution , between 1793 and 1794, he was imprisoned, where he managed to paint a few works, including on some on china plates.
In her Souvenirs (Paris, 1835-7), his friend, the portraitist Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Lebrun recorded that this productive artist died 'brush in hand' as he prepared to go out for dinner.