1. THE ROLE OF ARCHITECTURE IN FOUNTAIN DESIGN
Many surviving drawings exist for some of the world’s most famous and important fountains, providing important insights into the fountain design process. For instance, in the drawings behind Rome’s Trevi fountain, completed in 1762, we discover many of the complexities involved in making these fountains. Unfortunately, step-by-step design layouts have rarely been found, however documents that have been discovered detail much of the process. For example, it has been discovered that in the later stages of designing a fountain, many architects employed multiple dimensional models or scale representations to work out a fountain’s precise details or overall proportions and structural relationships.
Tritons are very common ornamental features of fountains; the mythological Greek god of the sea, with the physical traits of a mermaid. The Triton fountain (Tritone), the seventeenth-century fountain in Rome, created by the Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, represents the triton and illustrates the triumphant passage from Ovid’s Metamorphoses book I, evoking godlike control over the waters and describing the draining away of the universal deluge.
The Tritone was the first of Bernini’s free-standing urban fountains and was erected to provide water from the Acqua Felice aqueduct. At the Triton Fountain, Bernini brought the idea of a sculptural fountain, familiar from villa gardens, decisively to a public urban setting for the first time; previous public fountains in the city of Rome had been passive basins for the reception of public water.
2. THE SPECIAL NATURE OF FLORENTINE WATER FEATURES
In the Quattrocento, well-heads, lavabos, and holy water basins far outnumbered true water fountains. There were some good reasons for this. First, unlike Rome with its aqueducts, the water supply of Florence was extremely limited in the fifteenth century, being chiefly supplied by wells and springs. The fountains that Michelozzo devised for the Palazzo Vecchio played only on special occasions and had to be supplied either by water raised from wells, or by rain water collected in the reservoirs which he had constructed at the top of the palace. Apparently, it was not until late in the reign of Cosimo I that the supply of running water was sufficient enough to permit the luxury of continuously playing fountains in the city.
A second reason for the fewer number of water fountains was that private commissions for sculpture in the Quattrocento were still largely for ecclesiastical structures such as tombs, pulpits, altars, fonts, and lavabos. The great market for the secular fountain — that is, the private villa—was still largely undeveloped. The grounds of the early Tuscan villas consisted chiefly of flower beds of geometrical design, surrounded by elaborate topiary work and occasionally accented by a simple fountain. Toward the end of the century, more ambitious plans were made for gardens with elaborate sculptural decoration and numerous fountains, but these were seldom carried to completion, often because of the inadequate water supply. The realization of the Florentine sculptor’s dream of reproducing the magnificence of the ancient Roman fountains came only in the Cinquecento, with the phenomenal development of the Tuscan villa in that period.
3. HIGH RENAISSANCE FOUNTAIN SCULPTURES
During the High Renaissance, wall fountains with a single niche remained popular in Italy, but the delicate carving in low relief which the Quattrocento masters had lavished upon the architectural members was forgotten. The frame was now left almost severely plain, and sculptors concentrated upon the classic figure carved completely in the round within the recess.
The basin was usually of an oblong, trough-like shape reminiscent of ancient sarcophagi or of the great bathtubs in Roman thermae. A drawing of a fountain preserved in the Uffizi indicates that this type was already known in Italy in the late fifteenth century, but its full development belongs to the Cinquecento.
Such wall fountains flourished, particularly in Rome where the inexhaustible supply of antique statuary could be utilized for their decoration. All that was needed was a niche, an ancient river god, and a sarcophagus to serve as a basin. The famous garden of the Belvedere in the Vatican, rich in classic sculpture, set the example for such pastiches. Four ancient statues were incorporated into fountains—three river gods, the Nile, Tiber, and Tigris, and the recumbent female figure then known as Cleopatra.
4. FRENCH AND ENGLISH GARDEN STYLES
The French Garden: The form of the French garden style was influenced by the Italian Renaissance design, but it also had some distinctive traits. For instance, the geometric plan of the garden incorporated the latest discoveries of the time related to perspective and optics. Trees were never planted near the château, instead a periphery would be created through the use of trimmed bushes. The garden, in its entirety, could be easily viewed from the terrace at the villa and the vegetation was always planted in a single direction and trimmed.
The English Garden: A style of “landscape” garden which emerged in England in the early 18th century, and spread across Europe, replacing the more formal, symmetrical “jardin a la francaise” (French Garden) of the 17th century as the principal gardening style of Europe. The English garden presented an idealized view of nature. It drew inspiration from paintings of landscapes by Nicolas Poussin, and the Anglo-Chinese garden, from the classic Chinese gardens of the East, which had recently been described by European travelers. The English garden usually includes a lake, sweeps of gently rolling lawns set against groves of trees, and recreations of classical temples, gothic ruins, bridges, and other picturesque architecture, designed to recreate an idyllic pastoral landscape. By the end of the 18th century, the English garden was being imitated as far away as St. Petersburg, Russia. It also had a major influence on the form of the public parks and gardens which appeared around the world in the 19th century. The English landscape garden was centered on the English country house.
5. THE POWER OF GRAVITY: Chatsworth Gardens
Chatsworth’s gardens, in Derbyshire, England, are well-known for their waterworks, but what is perhaps less well-known is that they are completely gravity-fed from a number of man-made lakes high on the hillside, 400 feet above the house. These lakes are fed by the myriad of streams that run through the Derbyshire moors.
Not only are all the water features gravity-fed, but the water feed from the lakes is also used to power a turbine that generates much of the electricity required by Chatsworth House, making this old house a thoroughly modern example of sustainable development.
There are four main fountains at Chatsworth, each with its own unique and memorable characteristics, however the most impressive are the Emperor and Willow Tree fountains.
The Emperor Fountain was built for an imperial visitor and is truly on a royal scale. Its single jet can rise to over 290 feet, and can be seen from the house itself.
Joseph Paxton was the head gardener at Chatsworth for more than 30 years, and he created the Emperor Fountain in 1843, in anticipation of a visit from Tsar Nicholas of Russia. Although the visit never happened, the fountain provides the tallest jet of water in the UK.
Willow Tree Fountain: Sometimes referred to as the “Trick Tree”, or “Squirting Tree”, the Willow Tree fountain has been a feature of the garden for over 300 years, and makes a delightful surprise, hidden amongst real Willow Trees.
The fountain has its own “leaves” and “branches”, from which water sprays in all directions.
We have already seen how all of Chatsworth’s fountains are gravity-fed from the hillside lakes above the estate, but what is rarely seen by visitors is the underground network of streams and conduits that not only feed the fountains of Chatsworth, but also enable irrigation of the extensive gardens and greenhouses of the estate – a truly remarkable piece of integrated planning and engineering.
6. GARDEN FOUNTAINS: THE ROMANTIC PERIOD TO THE 20TH CENTURY
The 18th century saw a number of aesthetic changes, many of which were attributed to the rise of romanticism. This affected the arts as a whole, bringing about a new sensibility in landscape architecture. The uptight symmetry of the 17th century, typified by highly sculpted and structured spaces, gave way to informal arrangements of trees and shrubs surrounded by ponds, winding paths, gentle hills and sprawling grass. Gardens at grand estates such as Chatsworth and Blenheim Palace began to take on the unplanned qualities of the wilderness—a dramatic change from the gardens of previous centuries.The romantic style caught on all over Europe, with the garden at Ermenonville in France becoming a template for Thomas Jefferson’s estate at Monticello. This is also the style in which Central Park in New York City was designed in the late 1850s
In the 20th century, gardens became more integrated parts of the home, sometimes extending from the yard into the home. In areas with mild climates such as southern California, landscape designers explored the possibilities that such an amenable climate offered, coming up with unique new designs using exotic flora and varied flowing water elements. In urban areas where space is limited, indoor fountains and pools are commonly seen in shopping malls, office buildings and even inside homes.
Garden fountains have evolved over the century, as have the gardens they are found in. The traditional styles from these periods are incorporated into modern designs intended to add water elements to backyards, patios and indoor living spaces.
7. HISTORY OF GARDEN FOUNTAINS
The idea of the garden fountain has its first records in the Ancient Middle East. There are diagrams of walls of ancient Egyptian tombs with pictures of fountains within courtyards of homes. Usually, they were rectangular in the shape of a fish pond. The pictures showed rows of decorative and fruit-bearing trees lining the edges. The Mesopotamian culture used garden fountains as prominent features for their gardens, creating a lush oasis in a harsh highland area. The fountain would irrigate precious shade trees, perfect for the hot summer sun.
The Persians influenced the development of water fountains through the enclosure of gardens and pools that feature architecture meant to imitate the heavens. These were the designs that inspired the famous Persian Carpet Gardens of today. Roman society found fountains a daily necessity, especially with their ritual of bathing. In the Middle East, the hot desert inspired the creation of desert oases, which then inspired the idea of paradise gardens.
8. THE MANY SIDES OF GARDEN FOUNTAINS
Fountains are designed to harmonize the practical and aesthetic needs of water. In the past, fountains were designed with the practical purpose of creating a public place to fetch water or basic needs, but were also a place of beauty, to impress as they refreshed. Fountains today continue to serve as a symbiosis of social, symbolic, and artistic ideals. They help to add appeal to a given space, and to revitalize people. The design and mastery of the water is what determines the success of the fountain, no matter what material the fountain is crafted from. Creating a stunning fountain and mastering the water display comes from spending time observing nature, understanding how hydraulics work, and basic artistic skills. The sounds of a water fountain are often a testament to the designer’s ability to create a statue and turn it into a constantly changing work of art. Fountain designs represent an overall understanding of the rise and fall of water, design, and hydraulics.
9. NATURE’S VERY OWN FOUNTAINS
Nature creates stunning fountains all on her own. The Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park, for example, shoots hot spring water, in huge columns, high into the sky, with periodic intervals every hour. These columns can reach heights of up to 180 feet tall. Even though they last only a few minutes, they are an exciting and dazzling display. Niagara Falls, one of the most visited landmarks in North America, yields unimaginable beauty and stunning power. These falls are an exciting and dramatic site, enjoyed by all who visit. Water does not flow in the same pattern, but it is constantly changing form and creating a range of sounds and patterns. This is what fountain designers strive to accomplish. They manipulate the water to make it form different-sized droplets that sparkle or make water droplets join together to create a single fall that forms different shapes as it free falls. The beauty comes from the simple joy of the soothing water as it relaxes and soothes the soul.
10. 9th and 10th Century European Fountains
Gardens were divided into four main areas in the Swiss Abbey of St. Gall, along with the fountains. These consisted of areas for herbs, vegetables, fruits, and sweet-smelling flowers. The Ministry gardens featured cloistered paths with wells at their hearts, most probably inspired from the Persian Gardens. This allowed for a calm and serene area for meditation. During the Italian Renaissance, castles became the palaces and villas of the culture, featuring extensive landscaping in the ancient Roman tradition. This included rows of tall cypress and yew hedges, geometrically shaped flower beds, statuary, garden fountains, and sculptures to complete the look. This style can be seen in the Medici Gardens and the La Pietra villas in Florence. Increasingly formal and complex gardens grew in the 16th century, examples being the Villa Lante in Bagnaia and the Villa Farnese in Caprarola, as well as the Villa Madama, Villa Medici in Rome, and the Villa d’Este in Tivoli. The 17th Century brought even more accomplished gardens, adding the dramatic and appealing Baroque style. These featured more linear and curved elements, statuary in violent and aggressive poses, as well as emphasizing spouts in fountains and waterfalls. The Villa Alsobrandini in Frascati is a stunning example. Adding a garden wall fountain can bring some ancient style into your own space.