Nembro-marble circular fountain

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Northern Italy
Late 12th / early 13th century
Nembro marble
30 cm
70 cm

P.S. Juuti, G.P. Antoniou, W. Dragoni, F. El-Gohary, G. De Feo, T. Katko, R.P. Rajala, X.Y. Zheng, R. Drusiani, A. Angelakis, ‘Short Global History of Fountains’ in: Water, 2015 (7), pp. 2314-2348.

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This extraordinary fountain basin is made of nembro marble and carved on the outside with four heads in high relief. The water in the round basin flowed out through the mouths of the heads. The four heads represent Christ, the Devil, a clergyman and a woman. The devil is depicted with buck horns and a wide-open mouth. The clergyman wears a headgear with an eight-pointed Maltese cross on top. Christ has long hair and a moustache and beard. The woman, perhaps Mary, has a cap and is wearing her hair backwards. The basin was probably filled with water from above, by a tap or gutter. It is possible that the basin was part of a larger fountain. Remnants of the lead layer are visible at the bottom of the basin. The fountain is made of nembro marble; a rare beige stone with light yellow accents from Italy.

Since the early Bronze Age, fountains have been used to distribute water and make it more accessible. The first fountains were connected to natural sources, the development of advanced water systems, including aqueducts, enabled later civilizations to transport water to places where it did not naturally flow. Access to water made fountains important objects, both for secular and religious use. In medieval Western Europe, for instance, fountains played an essential role not only in daily life, but also in the spiritual life of monasteries and abbeys. The water from the often richly decorated fountains was used for, among other things, the religious washing of hands. The carved image on this fountain points to possible religious use.  


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