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Donatello’s Fountain

Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, universally known as “Donatello”, was born in Florence around 1385 and was laid to rest there in 1465. The powerful nature of his art made him the greatest sculptor of the early Renaissance

A fountain by Donatello, carved of granite and decorated with ornaments of marble, adorned the garden of the Medici Palace in Florence, Italy. As the most elaborate and monumental example of Florentine fountain sculpture from the entire century, this work merits special mention. The lost basin was almost certainly the one crowned by Donatello's bronze group of Judith and Holofernes before it was seized by the state in 1495 and transferred to the center of the Palazzo Vecchio. Four openings at the corners of the cushion on which the body of Holofernes rests prove that this group was designed for the decoration of a fountain.

Although Donatello chose a Biblical subject, he made use of a classical fountain motif. The water spurted from the open¬ings in the corners of the cushion below the drunken Holofernes, as from Hellenistic figures of tipsy satyrs on wineskins. The theme of intoxication was continued in a bronze relief of the triangular pedestal in three Bacchic scenes representing the vintage, a wine themed fountain spout, and a drunken revel — all enacted by the inevitable putti. A potential water spout ap¬pears in the center of each side of the pedestal, as in the Gorgon's head on the great crater in the Bacchanal, but these "mouths," obviously designed for jets of water, were never pierced.

Conscious of the need of 360-degree treatment in a freestanding group, Donatello designed Judith and Holofernes as a pyramid which presents three distinct profiles, each corresponding to a side of the pedestal below. The triangular plan of this pedestal undoubtedly repeats the broader tri¬angle of the base of the lost cylix. The granite of which that basin was carved recurs in the balusters that frame the relief.

Adding wall fountains or outdoor garden fountains to your landscaping or garden project can be a great way to enhance your outdoor living space, even if it does not carry the impact of a Donatello piece. Historical fountains (such as those by Donatello) and water features provide inspiration for many current designers and manufacturers, so adding one of these fountains is a great way to build a connection from your home to the past. Beyond the design beauty and characteristics of garden fountains, they also add water and moisture to the surrounding environment, which can attract wildlife such as birds, and balance your local ecosystem. For instance, birds that are attracted by a fountain or birdbath can be the best defense against flying insects that bother both humans and plants.

The group of Judith and Holofernes was probably constructed about 1455, after the artist's return from Padua. The relaxed head of the Holofernes is similar to that of the Christ in his Crucifix in Saint Antonio. The compli¬cated drapery of Judith and the intensity and confusion of the bas-reliefs are also in his later vein. Moreover, the fountain was almost cer¬tainly designed for the Medici Palace, which was not finished until the year 1444, after his departure for Padua.

While you won’t be adding a Donatello fountain to your garden, in a practical sense, most water fountains used in landscaping are self-contained, which means an electric fountain pump moves the water from a lower basin, up the back of the fountain, and then allows the water to spill down the facing of the waterfall. This makes them practical for the average homeowner. Nearly all these types of fountains rely on a household 110v electrical outlet nearby. Be sure the fountain pump is U.L. listed, and connected to a Ground Fault Interrupt (GFI) outlet.

Few works of art have suffered as much as the fountains of Donatello when re¬moved from their original setting. The broad base supplied by the cylix undoubtedly tended to stabilize the statue, now perched precariously upon a slender column which certainly has no connection with the original fountain.

Submitted by:

Elizabeth Jean

Written by Elizabeth Jean for for Garden-Fountains.com, an online store for Outdoor Water Features, garden planters, and garden statuary.




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