“Rappaccini’s Daughter” is set in Padua, Italy during an unidentified era of the past. This city is home to the Padua Botanical Garden, a garden established in 1545 in affiliation with the University of Padua for the cultivation and study of medicinal plants. The oldest existing botanical garden in the world that remains in its original location, it is likely the source of inspiration for Rappaccini’s garden: when Giovanni first lays eyes on the garden beneath his window, he “[judges] it to be one of those gardens which were of earlier date in Padua than elsewhere in Italy or in the world.” This reference to the garden also helps the reader situate the events of the story sometime after the 16th century, when the Botanical Garden was founded.
As a center for research on the practical uses of plants, the Botanical Garden is the intersection of art (or gardening) and science. In Rappaccini’s garden, Hawthorne imagines this mixing of disciplines as the corruption of “the most simple and innocent of human toils”—that is, gardening—by the search for knowledge.
At the beginning of the story, the narrator notes that Giovanni moves to Padua in order to “pursue his studies at the University of Padua.” Baglioni, meanwhile, is a “professor of medicine at the university.” The fifth-oldest existing university in the world, the University of Padua has historically been renowned for its research in science and mathematics. The academic environment of Padua provides the backdrop for Baglioni’s professional rivalry with Rappaccini, which, according to the narrator, has been recorded in “certain black-letter tracts on both sides […] in the medical department of the University of Padua.”