In my last posts on the blog, I explored the connection between the development of Rome, the Chigi Family and the papacy. I uncovered that Fabio Chigi also known as pope Alexander VII was very interested in the architectural development of Rome and therefore ordered to develop numerous projects for Rome, whereunder the development of fountains. D. Agostino Chigi wanted to capture the greatness and architectural work of his great-uncle, and ordered to make a book on the fountains in the public areas of rome.
Now to turn to the assignment, I decided to look at the importance and symbolism of the fountain, and why they were of such importance to Fabio and Agostino Chigi. Since I felt that the development of Rome was almost entirely connected to wealth and religion (catholicism), I decided to keep those two terms as my topic of discussion with Alice.
The first search for “water” in the Xenotheka Library immediately propeled me into the importance and symbolism of water. The following passsage form the book Renaissance and Baroque Architecture from Alina Payne was
If streets and squares reconfigured the cities in the Renaissance, water was the third invisible yet spectacular protagonist of the urban scene; the aqueducts, restored to irrigate the sumptuous gardens of the urban villas, also fed the ornamental fountains, drinking fountains, and washhouses that articulated the squares and crossroads and offered the people the luxury and generosity of princes.
The passage underlines the importance of water and the importance of good water supply in the city of rome. Water supply defines and structures the city of rome, with its aqueducts, drinking fountains, washhouses and ornamental fountains. Understanding this, reveals why the Fabio and Agostino Chigi found that fountains were such an important part of the city to develop and document. Since ornamental fountains are at the center of the book I decided to continue with another search for “fountain”. Alice replied with the following quote from Payne’s same book.
For those entering the city, the fountain anticipated the stately, monumental architecture of the gate.
The quote is linked to the fountain behind the entrance of the Porta del Popolo, the most prominent entrance for people entering the city from the north. This reveals another important property of a fountain: the scenery. Fountains were not only sources of water, our “life-elixir”, but they are an important part of the scenery of a city, to which pope Alexander VII referenced as urban theater or teatro. It also explains why the book did not only display the fountains, isolated from its environment, but it showcases the whole backdrop, and the surroundings of the fountain.
To further explore this idea of urban theater, I continued my conversation with Alice until I found another book, (not really related to the topic of urban theater, but with another important connection) called The Waters of Rome by Katherine Rinne an architect and urban designer, whose research focused on the water system of rome. Although her book seems to focus more on the technological aspect of the water system, I found the following quotes that underlined the importance of the fountains:
The extravagant use of water has delighted tourists and inspired artists, writers, and musicians since these fountains were first constructed, but that same beauty and liveliness has impeded our under standing of the crucial role that they and their waters played in Rome’s urban development in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The new water supply brought advances across many aspects of daily and court life, from hydraulic technology to public health, and from rational urban planning to the design of gardens and villas.
According to this source the fountains of Rome at the time were not only special because of their scenography and function for providing the city with water, but expressed the idea of fertility of the city. Not only because of the fountains in the squares, but also because of their ability to nourish the gardens of rome.
All summarised: Le Fontane di Roma nelle Piazze e Luoghi Publici della Città‘s focus on fountains can be explained by the importance that the fountains played in the development of rome. The fountains were sources of water that nourished people and gardens. They supplied the bath- and washhouses. They displayed romes wealth and fertility anad were crucial to the development of the city of rome. The choice to make water and beautiful ornamental fountains, a part of the city landscape and a part of Alexander VIIs vision for the city was a deliberate and smart choice, and it is therefore justified to record them and eternalise them in a beautiful publication.