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The “cylix” Type Fountain In Florence

One form of small freestanding fountain is the "cylix" type, so named because the footed, bowl-shaped basin which forms its nucleus resembles both in shape and in proportions the classical cylix or drinking cup. Only two basins of this type in the style of the Florentine Quattrocento have been preserved: the marble fountain which originally adorned the garden of the Pazzi Palace, and the example, also in marble, bearing the insignia of the Medici, now in the vestibule of the Pitti Palace.

The attempt to determine the general characteristics of the cylix type is complicated by the fact that neither of these examples has remained intact. The Palazzo Urn Fountain basin has lost a portion of its pedestal, while the figure and upper basin in the Medici fountain appear to be additions of the sixteenth century. Representations of similar fountains in contemporary paintings, medals, and drawings help reconstruct the norm. These indicate that the cylix was usually surmounted by a shaft, in the shape of a short column or baluster. This often attained a considerable height and sometimes received elaborate decoration. This portion, although lacking in the Pazzi cylix, is still pre¬served in the Medici fountain. To see some modern representations of these fountains, visit http://www.garden-fountains.com.

The numerous paintings, drawings, and engravings of the Quattrocento in which cylix fountains appear prove that this type was well known in the early Renaissance. A low number of basins still exist from secular fountains, but holy water basins of similar form abound in the churches, their pagan decoration often contrasting strangely with their Christian setting, as in the richly decorated pair by the Sienese sculptor Antonio Federighi, in the Cathedral at Siena. As the holy water basins are not supplied with running water, they must be distinguished from the true fountains (intended for the display of a continuous jet).

Such basins were clearly inspired by ancient prototypes, and the influence continues to this day in modern fountain design. By adding a Cylix inspired wall fountain or garden fountain to your landscaping or garden project, you can take a piece of this history home with you. Historical fountains and water features provide inspiration for almost all current designers and manufacturers, so adding one of these fountains is a great way to build a connection from your home to old Italy. Beyond the design beauty and characteristics of garden water fountains, they also add water and moisture to the garden, which can attract birds and other wildlife, and balance the ecosystem. For instance, birds that are attracted by a fountain or birdbath are oftentimes the best defense against flying insects that bother both humans and plants. The earliest examples of the Renaissance may have been modeled upon the Roman vases of marble which often served as fountains and holy water basins in Old Italian churches dating from centuries ago. Sometimes the Tuscan holy fountains bore figures like their secular counterparts.

The rarity of true cylix fountains known to date from the Quattrocento makes the handsome marble basin from the garden of the Pazzi Palace of exceptional interest, quite apart from the beauty of its contour and carving, and its traditional ascription to so great an artist as Donatello. Here, as in the holy water basins, the decoration is based upon classical motifs drawn from ancient urns, altars, and pilasters, applied with the lavish feeling for all-over ornament characteristic of the Florentine Quattrocento. Coats of arms bearing the Pazzi dolphins in a fountain motif decorate each corner of the upper surface of the triangular base. The missing shaft, said to have been shaped like a baluster or vase, probably resembled that of the acquasantiera at Lucca, although it was undoubtedly shorter, supplying the needed transition between the triangular pedestal and the bowl above, and somewhat increasing the height of the basin. Presumably the basin originally contained an ornamental central shaft, through which the water issued; but this has been lost.

Submitted by:

Elizabeth Jean

To see modern interpretations of these fountains, visit the garden fountains section of garden-fountains.com.




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