Originally, the word “fountain” referred to a natural spring or source, but it has come to mean an artificial structure designed to contain and move water, providing people with refreshment, and aesthetic pleasure, or both. The solid sculptural or architectural structure is designed to manipulate and shape the fluidity of water into delicate or grand jets and sprays, or to to channel it into refined or thundering flows and falls.
Since antiquity, artists and architects have strived to work with and imitate nature. A 15th-century architect wrote in a book on architecture: “we consider a building to be a body which, like other bodies, consists of design in a matter of which one is produced by the mind and the other by nature.” In fountains, water serves as an additional natural material that the designer can mold and transform into art and ornament. In a letter dated in 1543, the Renaissance humanist Tolomei wrote enthusiastically about the sensual pleasures and the then-novel visual marvels of Roman garden fountains: “but what pleases me more in these new fountains is the variety of ways in which they died, divide, in turn, lead, break, and at one movement cause water to descend and at another time to rise.” He also remarked on “the ingenious skilled newly discovered to make fountains in which mixing art with nature, one can’t judge if the fountains are the work of the former or the latter; thus, one appears a natural artifact and another, a man-made interpretation of nature. Does they strive nowadays to assemble a fountain that appears to be made by nature, not by accident, but with masterful art.” What Tolomei perceived about fountain design is still true today.
A fountain is comprised of two basic components: the source or genesis of the water flow or trajectory; and the receiver, basin, or pool castrating containing the water. Art often mimics nature, and throughout the world, one finds many fountains with human, animal or imaginary grotesque heads, whose mouths service downspouts or faucets. Many fountains transcend their original functional purpose as a drinking fountain to illustrate the concept of a fountain basin as a receiver and container of water.