Fountain as a symbol in art: Farewell, fountain of tears! Long live, source of joy!

Fountains are not ugly. For the people of the Ancient World, the civilizations of the Mediterranean and Asia, this hydraulic device was vital. Both the poor and the rich equally needed water and everyone reached for the source ... The artists did not cheat the decorated source with their attention and it took its place among the picturesque codes. Let's try to decipher the secret signs of the past and their transformation. So, familiar to all the fountain, as a symbol in the painting.

Peter Paul Rubens. Bathsheba in the bath
1635 175x126. Picture Gallery Dresden.
Clickable - 4320 × 5942 px
Strong vertical washstand
The successor of the Roman Empire - Byzantium gave Christianity this benefit of the ancient civilization in the form of a multi-valued symbol. First of all, the priests used a special washstand called lavabo to wash their hands before serving.This adaptation in Catholic monasteries most often had the shape of a fountain.

Since the church needed a tough organizational vertical, it is not surprising that in the iconographic art there appeared a motif of a multi-tiered fountain uniting the church and society. The upper tier is usually symbolized the idea of ​​God, given the Holy Water - the life-giving for the Christian community.
A similar idea of ​​the world order was reflected in the altar canvas “The Fountain of Grace and the Triumph of Ecclesia” by the work of Van Eyck.

The font symbol in the form of a fountain, as a place for baptism (baptistery) and at the same time Paradise first appeared in the V century in illuminated manuscripts and later in wall paintings.
As a rule, it is a fountain of hexagon structure, covered with a dome. The columns in the foreground represent the four Evangelists, from whom the word of the Lord and the four streams of Paradise take power, symbolizing the flow of God's grace bestowed on all. (Illustrations to the Bible of the Carolingian era, commissioned to perpetuate the baptism of the son of Charlemagne in 781, as well as in the Gospel of St. Medard in Soissons).

The early Christian (often found in the catacombs) plot - Saints Peter and Paul and two pigeons at the fountain, symbolizing souls, are drunk from a source of living water in paradise. (Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. Second quarter of the 5th century. Ravenna).

Blood, however, not water
The idea of ​​the sacrifice of Christ was transformed in a peculiar way in Western painting, true, and here it reached the pinnacle of sophistication. As can be seen on the central picture of the Ghent Altar (“The Adoration of the Mystical Lamb”), completed in 1432 by Jan Van Eyck.

The lamb, symbolizing Christ, stands on the sacrificial altar, and from its wounds blood flows, filling the Fountain of life, a symbol of the Christian faith, with the inscription: "This is the source of the water of life, coming from the throne of God and the Lamb." Water from the bottom of the fountain pours out into the riverbed, laid with precious stones and flows in the direction of the altar.

A similar story is present in the miniature of the Book of Watches, probably painted in Ghent at the end of the 15th century.
Subsequently, this theme successfully took root in the Spanish culture, committed to bloody religious traditions, such as, for example, in this 18th century Mexican icon from the Brooklyn Museum.

Heart of the Garden of Eden
On a hot afternoon, perhaps, there is no better place to rest than cool water in the shade of trees. A real paradise. That is why already in the gardens of the early Middle Ages, the fountain became in fact a necessary attribute, a symbol of the Garden of Eden and romantic love.
The monastery courtyard, usually square, was divided by narrow paths into four square parts crosswise (which had a symbolic meaning). In the center, at the intersection of the tracks, it was supposed to be a well or a fountain, in general, a small reservoir, which, in addition to symbolizing the purity of faith and inexhaustible grace, served its intended purpose - supplied with water. And in this regard, it is impossible not to recall the biblical story of Bathsheba (Batseb).

Paris Bordone (1500−1571). Batseba
The story of the beauty that King David took from her husband, the warlord Uriah, and who became the mother of King Solomon, is one of the most beloved in the visual arts, beginning with illustrations of the 11th — 12th centuries. In this case, the beauty does not so much bathe as this hygienic procedure in the font is identified with baptism. Batseb often symbolizes the Immaculate, and King David - the Lord and the spouse seeks to cleanse before meeting with the beloved.

Karl Bryullov. Bathsheba
Life-giving source
A popular motif of Orthodox icons is the Virgin and Child in a fountain from which water pours out. (Life-giving source. Monastery Zoodokhu Pigi, about. Corfu). The tradition comes from a source near Constantinople, where the miraculous grace of the Mother of God manifested itself. At the same time, the Virgin Mary itself is called the life-giving source.

It should be noted that the source of the Blessed Virgin - actually exists in the Holy Land, in Nazareth, where key biblical events took place: the Annunciation. The fact is that the water in this place comes from two tanks filling in spring and autumn. This system has existed since antiquity and could well remember the Blessed Virgin. It is not surprising that the fountain turned out to be connected with the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos, the spring festival of burgeoning nature and full-flowing streams. That is why the conception of Christ is associated with spring and spring waters, and, again, a fountain. The image of an aestheticized water source in the pictures is interpreted not only as a symbol of the emerging life, but also as an emerging Faith.
In pursuit of eternal youth
Fountains of Italy, of course, deserve a separate discussion.These architectural masterpieces did not at all share the gloomy mood of adherents of Christianity, who called for restraint and restraint. The fountains of the Renaissance and Baroque are overwhelmed by pagan joy, and the appeal to antiquity is evidence of other ideals and values.
The idea of ​​the fountain (or rather, the source) of eternal youth, (it’s also a fountain of living water), gained particular popularity in the late Middle Ages, and this story no longer matters to religion. (In the inner world of a person, eroticism began to conquer a special place, besides, if we take into account the complex relationship of medieval society with body hygiene). Everybody was looking for this miracle: from Herodot to Alexander the Great.

Almost 1.5 centuries before Cranach. Jacques Iverny. Fountain of youth, detail, fresco.

Not surprisingly, Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472−1553) painted the picture “The fountain of eternal youth” (1546) in 74 years. Alas, the winter of life is not an easy test. And it is abundantly clear that this plot has nothing to do with religion: the elderly, who, on their own and bring some, plunge into the pool. After a while they go out already young, quite fashionably dressed and have a great time.After all, at Hieronymus Bosch the park with a fountain already symbolized voluptuousness and carnal delight (“The Garden of Earthly Delights”, “The Traveler”; 1500–1510), although a premonition of the Last Judgment still prevailed over these human weaknesses.

Hieronymus bosch. Garden of earthly pleasures. 1500–1510
Wood, oil. 389.005 × 220 cm
Prado Museum, Madrid. Wikimedia Commons
Clickable - 2952 × 1574 px
Putti reviving the water
Titian's painting “Earthly and Heavenly Love” (1514), which attracts attention primarily by the beauties depicted, is in fact full of mysteries. The fountain on the canvas turns out to be a sarcophagus, but Cupid revives dead water with its handle. Images of the fountain and the big tree have multiple meanings. For some, this is the pure river “Water of Life” and the Tree of Life, which gives leaves “for the healing of the nations” (the Book of Genesis, the Revelation of John the Divine). For some, the Tree of Life and the Water of Life are associated with the sacraments of the Church — baptism and the Eucharist. In this case, the gesture of the hand putty, mixing the water in the fountain, is sometimes associated with the ritual of baptism, in particular with the blessing of the water of the font.

About the times, about morals ...
Dadaists sick of exquisite Symbolists, realists,and other lovers of beauty, reflecting the languid world with hair maidens, strolling in magnificent gardens and parks and dreamily gazing at their reflection in the water. Obviously, this prompted Marcel Duchamp to offer his version of the source - both joy, life, and eternal youth.

At the New York Exhibition of Independent in 1917, the artist presented a urinal called "The Fountain". The ironic name of this object gave it the status of "works of art."
Today this medium-made (a subject that becomes an object of art because the artist declares it as such) is revered as an important milestone in the twentieth-century art movement, and British experts recognized it as the greatest work of its era.

The tradition was continued by Bruce Nauman, presenting various variations of the same fountain and the most popular of them - “Self-portrait in the form of a fountain”. Beating, among other things, Duchamp's masterpiece. And in this case, ready-made is a man himself. He gave his answer to the question: what makes an artist an artist?

Jan Fabre, a Belgian artist and theater director, also did not pass by a multi-valued symbol in the installation “The Fountain of the World as a Young Artist”.Among the gravestones is a young man (Fabre loves large-scale installations) with his pants open. Every 10 minutes there is a fountain of sperm - a symbol of life and rejuvenation.
One thing can be said - while the artists are alive - the fountain will always be in demand. Already a lot of symbolic meanings he has absorbed.

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