Dripping gods and goddesses and fountains as royal status symbols…
The principles of Andre Le Notre and Francois and Pierre de Francine were carried to England in 1712 in a curious and amusing book, The Theory and Practice of Gardening, John James’s translation of Dezallier d’Argenville’s classic French treatise on the design of grounds and waterworks in the manner of Versailles.
England already had the “exquistive waterworks” of the first phase of Chatsworth, including the Great Cascade, the Neptune Fountains, and the copper weeping willow, which were in construction as early as 1687. Together with the bird-song grotto at Wilton, where unwary bird lovers were suitably saturated, these had left Englishmen avid for more. James recommended “Basons and large Pieces of Water” with appropriate water forms: “Cascades, Gullets, Buffets, Sheets, Masks,Bubbles,Muhrooms, Sheafs, Spouts, Surges, Candlesticks, Grills, Tapers, Crosses,and vaulted Arches.” ….and Figures that naturally belong to the Water, as Rivers, Naiades or Water Nymphs, Tritons, Serpents, Sea-Horses, Dragons, Dolphins, Griffins, and Frogs, which are made to throw out and vomit Streams and Torrents of Water.”
In the eighteenth century, James’s “Congelations, Petrifyings, Spouts, and Surges” appeared all over Europe. The construction of that superb, perennially popular, aquatic attraction of Rome, the Fountain of Trevi, the work of Nicola Salvi from 1732-62, was financed by popular lotteries and accompanied by outraged public cries as expenses mounted. Peterhof, the show palace of the Russian Czars, was begun around 1716 by jean-Baptiste Le Blond, Le Notre’s illustrious pupil; and Caserts, the formidable creation of Charles III of Naples, was built in the years after 1752 by Luigi and Carlo Vanvitelli and an impressive assortment of sculptors, engineers, and artisans.
Called respectively, the Russian and Italian Versailles, they shared the characteristic of all later versions of a monumental stylistic achievement: their conception was bigger, but not better. By one of the delightful ironies of history, the hydraulic hi-jinks of the Romanovs, containing by official count, approximately 2,500 pipes, was eventually communist maintained in the U.S.S.R ; the loyal prole whose sole duty was to turn the cock for unsuspected drenchings by the “water surprises.”