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Florentine Water Features

Copyright (c) 2007-2023

In 15th Century Florence, well-heads that bubbled water, lavabos (wash basins), and holy water basins far outnumbered true water fountains in the city. 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, some of which ran low in late summer. 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 within the city limits.

A second reason for the fewer number of water fountains was that private commissions for sculpture in the 15th Century were still largely for religious 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, or not nearly as developed as it was in Rome. The grounds of the early Tuscan villas consisted chiefly of flower beds of geometrical design, surrounded by elaborate garden statuary, topiary work and occasionally accented by a simple outdoor water fountain. Toward the end of the century, more ambitious plans were made for large, dramatic gardens with elaborate sculptural decoration and numerous fountains, but these were seldom seen all the way 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 16th Century, with the phenomenal development of the classic Tuscan villas in that period.

To this generalization there was one monumental exception: the Villa of Poggio Reale at Naples, commenced in 1487 by the Florentine fountain designer and sculptor, Giuliano da Maiano, famous for the number and richness of his fountains. There was one so large that it could furnish all Naples with water. Fountains with figure sculpture are mentioned, and the water reservoirs with representations of aquatic animals anticipate similar Florentine types in the sixteenth century. Evidently most of the forms known to the sixteenth century - fishponds, isolated fountains, grottoes, and canals or brooks - were represented. Unfortunately, this villa was later destroyed, and nothing of its grandeur remains except vague references in the historic literature. Its destruction leaves a wide gap in the history of the Florentine fountain, for Poggio Reale undoubtedly contained the prototypes of the fountains erected in the Tuscan villas of the Cinquecento. In order to appreciate the peculiarly Florentine characteristics of the fountains constructed in the villas during the Cinquecento, one must first consider the part that fountains played in the design of Tuscan gardens. This stands out in particularly sharp relief when contrasted with their divergent role in contemporary Roman villas.

In the latter periods, wall fountains were generally used in preference to the freestanding types. Placed on axis on successive terraces, they lent themselves to the grandiose effects of perspective which are the essence of the Roman garden style. The wall fountains which mark the central axis of the Villa d'Este at Tivoli and line the crossing, horizontal avenues are recurring motifs of rising and falling water in a great symphony. The individual fountain loses its importance in contributing to the effect of the whole.

Even when fountains of elliptical ground plan were used, they were combined with some architectural feature, losing the individual character of the centrally composed fountain. The Fountain of Arethusa at the same villa was incorporated into an exedra, while in the great Fountain of the Dragons the oval basin was set before one of the wall fountains.

Adding an Italian styled water feature is not difficult these days. Simply search for "garden fountains", "wall fountains", etc. in your favorite search engine. Be sure to select a company with an 800 number for questions, secure checkout, and with plenty of detailed information, before you purchase.

About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
Written by Elizabeth Jean for an online retailer selling outdoor fountains, water features, and garden statuary.

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