Early Italy: Single Niche Wall Fountains
Single niche wall fountains remained popular in Italy, early masters lavished upon delicate carving in low relief but architectural members were forgotten with the new interest in wall fountains with rounded shape. These new wall fountains were left with an enfacement that was designed to be almost completely empty. Sculptors concentrated on creating classical style wall fountains, with recessed areas, in which, the shape was completely round. Basins on these new single niche fountains were typically oblong shapes, resembling troughs that mimicked the ancient sarcophagi or the great bathtubs of Roman times. Drawings preserved in the Uffizi indicate that these types of fountains were known to exist in Italy during the late fifteenth century. Full development of these single niche fountains can be traced back to the Cinquecento and many Italian towns still showcase these simple fountains along roads and paths.
Single niche wall fountains grew in abundance in many areas, particularly Rome, where an excessive supple of marbles could be utilized as decoration for these simple fountains. The marbles were included by using a niche for the wall fountain, a sarcophagus to serve as a basin, and an ancient river God. Setting the stage for these fountains was the famous garden of Belvedere in the Vatican’s rich, classical sculpture. Most notable were the Three River Gods: The Nile, Tiber, the Tigris, and the well known female figure we now know as Cleopatra out of these gardens statues came ideas for creation that would run as popular themes for many years.
Unfortunately, if visited today, these fountains were dismantled many years ago. What remains are many of the decorative marbles that have been placed in museums. One notable preservation of these single niche wall fountains is a drawing created by Martin van Heemskerck. This drawing preserved the form of the wall fountain of the Tigris that was created by Michelangelo, requested by Clement VII, dating back to creation between 1523 to 1534. When viewing this drawing, one may be quite taken back by the formal beauty of this single niche fountain that was reproduced in these sketches. These sketches show that architectural enfacement was lacking ornamentation and attention was placed mainly on the wall fountain of the River God and the ornamental detailing carved into the sarcophagus.