One form of public art that really enhances many of our cities are the fountains to be found in our squares and parks. I often find myself drawn to photograph these. I like to try to capture the flowing water, or perhaps to pick out interesting details in their sculptural groups.
So for this week’s Photographing Public Art challenge I want to share some that have caught my eye, both close to home and on my travels.
Germany seems to do fountains particularly well, so many of my examples are from there. Others are from Italy as well as further afield in Ukraine, Chile and North Korea. But I’m starting with one only a few miles from my home in west London.
Twickenham, west London
This is the York House Cascade, otherwise known as the Oceanides, in Twickenham. This Italian marble fountain in the grounds of York House, near the river Thames, is crowned by a dramatic statue of Venus with flowing hair, riding two winged horses. Below her in the water cavort a number of female nudes in various poses. Some are reflected in the water, while the one in my photo offers Venus a pearl.
The Neptune Fountain in Berlin was built in 1891. The Roman god Neptune is in the centre, while the four women around him represent the four main rivers of Prussia at the time the fountain was constructed. These are the Elbe (with the allegorical figure holding fruits and ears of corn); the Rhine (the figure holds a fishnet and grapes); the Vistula (wooden blocks, symbols of forestry); and the Oder (goats and animal skins). Nowadays the Vistula is entirely in Poland, while the Oder forms the border between Germany and Poland.
The Fastnachtsbrunnen or Carnival Fountain in Mainz dates from 1967 and is around nine metres high. It has more than 200 bronze figures and symbols relating to the carnival, which is a big deal in Mainz (even more so than in many other German cities). The figures include the Fool, the Monk, the Harlequin, the Donkey-rider or Eselsreiter, the Money-bag Washer (Geldbeutelwäsche) and the city goddess Moguntia. The design tapers towards the foot. This is said to symbolise the unstable happiness of fools. It also shows how the city and its cathedral are ‘turned upside down’ at carnival time.
The History Column fountain in Koblenz tells the history of the city in ten three-dimensional scenes arranged one on top of the other. It was a gift from the state of Rhineland-Palatinate to mark the city’s 2000th anniversary in 1992. The scene in my photo above depicts the early wine trade in the region.
My feature photo is of another Koblenz fountain, a water fountain in its main square, dating from 1806. Its waters flow from a duck’s beak into a basin below. I have been able to find no explanation as to why there should be a duck (‘Why a duck?’ as Groucho would have asked!)
Leipzig’s largest fountain is the Mendebrunnen. It was built in the late 19th century in the Neo-Baroque style, reminiscent of Roman fountains. Apparently it is an allegory of the relationships between man and water. The various statues symbolise the power of water on the one hand, and its subjugation by man on the other.
The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers is one of those Roman fountains that are said to have inspired the Mendebrunnen. It was designed in 1651 by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and sits in the centre of the Piazza Navona. Its statues are river gods who represent four major rivers of the four continents through which papal authority had spread. These are the Nile representing Africa; the Danube representing Europe; the Ganges representing Asia; and the Río de la Plata representing the Americas. My photo, which is a scanned slide from 1987, is of Ganges.
The Fontana delle Tartarughe or Turtle Fountain dates from the 16th century and is in Piazza Mattei in Rome’s Jewish Quarter. The turtles which you can just see near the top of my photo were a later 17th century addition. They are thought to be also possibly the work of Bernini and cast from a real turtle. This is another 1987 slide.
Bologna’s Fountain of Neptune is one of the must-see sights of the city, a draw for both tourists and locals. The former come to photograph the huge (in every sense!) depiction of the god, while for locals this is a regular meeting point. The fountain was commissioned by Cardinal Carlo Borromeo to honour his uncle who had been elected as pope (becoming Pope Pius IV). Rather ironically, that same pope would later be called on to give his approval to a statue that many felt was unbecoming, even rude (a quick look at my photos should reveal why!). Perhaps wanting to spare his nephew embarrassment, the pope is said to have commented that it was ‘Alright for Bologna’; an acknowledgement too that this was considered then, as it is now, a liberal, cultural city.
The fountain stands at the exact point where the cardo and the decumanus (the main streets of all Roman cities) once intersected. Like the Mendebrunnen it was inspired it seems by Rome’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi. Neptune stands on a pedestal in the centre, with four cherubs at his feet who represent the four winds. Beneath these are four sirens who represent the four continents known in the Renaissance world. These are named after the major rivers of these continents: the Danube in Europe; the Ganges in Asia; the Amazon in the Americas; and the Nile in Africa. These sirens are intended to spout water (as befits their names) but were dry when we visited and, from what I read, often are. This mattered little in terms of the overall effect of this hyperbolic statement of a fountain!
This much simpler fountain is in Fabriano in the Marche region of Italy. The Fontana Sturinalto is the oldest in this gallery, dating from 1285.
The Mirror Stream Fountain in Kharkiv is lit up at night in a succession of different colours so I made a collage of my four photos. It was built in 1947 to mark victory in World War II and is modelled on a fountain in Kislovodsk, a spa city in southwestern Russia. Locally they say that the Mirror Stream was built by a high-ranking Soviet official for his young lover in memory of their holiday in Kislovodsk.
The Fuente Alemana (German Fountain) is in Santiago in Chile. It is dedicated to the many German immigrants to Chile. It is rather grandiose, with its depiction of a sailing ship leaving behind the German eagle and making its way through waters watched by seals on rocky outcrops; you get the idea!
The centrepiece of Pyongyang’s Mansudae Fountain Park is the ‘Snow Falls’ sculpture, a group of rather elegant dancing ladies, 28 in total. This is a popular place for locals to relax (when they have the time for such luxuries!) and for children to splash in the cool water on a hot day. The building in the background above is the side of the Grand People’s Study House.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of some rather striking fountains. I’ve left out many more than I’ve included, but I think this is more than enough for now!