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Ferrebeekeeper’s love of gardens is well known, but there is an aspect of gardens which I love nearly as much as the gardens themselves.  Yet they are not really plants or gardens.  They can be found beyond the garden in public squares or in the center of deserts…in preschools or in abandoned palaces.  I am speaking, of course, of fountains and I intend to put a lot more images of ornamental water features on this blog.  To start with I am featuring this ornate geometric tree fountain from an unknown location in Morocco.  I guess if I had a fountain I would want a baroque fountain with lots of river gods and naked nymphs and ogee shapes…but the Islamic conception of sumptuously tiled fountains with beautiful arabesque curves made of filigree might be just as elegant.  I will post more pictures of these treasures…and I also need to write about the Lote Tree (I have a suspicion the tree in this fountain might allude to it (but who can say).  There is more to follow!  Thanks for bearing with me.  Sometimes the fountain is a rivulet and sometimes it is a mighty torrent but it is always flowing.

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Lifesaver Fountain is a sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely which was finished/installed between 1991-1993 in Duisberg, Germany.  The central element of the fountain–the great phantasmagoric pigeon with the woman clinging to it–is largely the work of Niki de Saint Phalle.  The architectural elements—the plinth and the structural stability, come from Jean Tinguely.

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Niki de Saint Phalle was the daughter of a French count who came from a family of bankers. During the Great Depression, the count’s personal fortune was wiped out, and he was forced to come to the United States to manage the American branch of the family bank.  Niki’s upbringing was thus split between America and France.  She was thrown out of Brearley for painting fig leafs on campus statues red.  She was a model and a housewife, before entering the arts with controversial statues and architectural depictions of women.

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Critics argue about the bird figure in this fountain, asserting that it is an angel or a guruda or a firebird, but just look at the face! This is clearly a pigeon, albeit an unusually powerful and colorful one.  It is a humorous juxtaposition, since pigeons are usually drab birds which mess up statues instead of brilliantly colored public art in their own right.

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The lifesaver statue is 7.2 meters tall (nearly 23 feet) and it moves to the left and right thanks to the ingenuous plinth.  Its undiminished color steams from the fact that it is made of polyester and teflon over steel (although industrial waste and other discarded items are also a part of the composition).  The bird figure is clearly a larger than life savior-figure, but it is less clear what the great colorful pigeon humanoid is saving the colorful and heavily contoured woman clinging to its breast from.  Is this a statement about rescuing oneself from patriarchy and industrialized society through the power of art?  Or is it about the exultant power of imagination to lift us from any circumstance?  Whatever the case, the “Lifesavior” certainly rescues the most common urban bird from drabness and it brings a smile to one’s face as well.

 

 

It has been a long time since we had a garden post here.  In order to make the time pass more quickly until spring arrives and we have real flower gardening, here are some pictures of various beautiful sculpture gardens scattered across North America and Europe.  They make we want to add some sculptures to my own backyard garden (which has a sphinx and a fu dog).  Does anybody know where I could get a Janus statue and maybe some lamassus?  Perhaps it’s time I broke out of this torpor and just carved a bunch of crazy mystical animals!  Anyway enjoy the sculpture gardens…

Gabriel Albert's garden (Chez Audebert, France)

Gabriel Albert’s garden (Chez Audebert, France)

La fontaine Médicis (Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris, France)

La fontaine Médicis (Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris, France)

Huntington Garden (Pasadena)

Huntington Garden (Pasadena)

Desert Rose Labyrinth, close to Coyote Gulch Art Village in Kayenta

Desert Rose Labyrinth, close to Coyote Gulch Art Village in Kayenta

Carolina Escobar's sculpture exhibition Whispers of a New World (Desert Botanical Garden)

Carolina Escobar’s sculpture exhibition Whispers of a New World (Desert Botanical Garden)

Getty Sculpture Garden

Getty Sculpture Garden

André Morvan Sculpture garden (Brittany, France)

André Morvan Sculpture garden (Brittany, France)

Miniature "Outsider Garden" theme: Pearls Before Swine (High Desert, California)

Miniature “Outsider Garden” theme: Pearls Before Swine (High Desert, California)

Moma Sculpture Garden

Moma Sculpture Garden

Underwater Sculpture Garden (Cancun, Mexico)

Underwater Sculpture Garden (Cancun, Mexico)

Sphinx Garden (Ireland) photo by Bibliona

Sphinx Garden (Ireland) photo by Bibliona

Fake Roman Ruins at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

Fake Roman Ruins at the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

Dagan Shklovsky Sculpture Garden at Kibbuz E'in Carmel (Israel)

Dagan Shklovsky Sculpture Garden at Kibbuz E’in Carmel (Israel)

Native American Art sculptures in Stanley Park Vancouver BC

Native American Art sculptures in Stanley Park Vancouver BC

Storm King, New York

Storm King, New York

 

 

The garden of the House of the Vettii in Pompeii

The ancient Romans were devotees of all sorts of gardens.  As classical Mediterranean culture reached its apogee during the eras of the Roman Republic and the Roman Principate, Roman gardeners combined the best aspects of garden styles from Greece, Persia, and Egypt to create their own tranquil refuges from stress, strife, and crowds.  Some of these gardens were sprawling temple gardens built to honor various deities (while also granting beauty and serenity to the worshippers), or large pleasure gardens which combined orchards with ornate terraces, but the classical Roman garden which everyone thinks of today was the peristyle garden at the center of the Roman urban household.  This was designed to be one of the two centers of the Roman home.  The other center, the atria was symbolic and formal—it related to ancestors, religion, and the past, but the garden was meant to be lived in and enjoyed.

Reconstruction of the garden of the House of the Vettii in Pompeii (from the opposite side as from the picture taken in the actual garden above)

A peristyle garden was located in an open courtyard of a domus and was generally surrounded by colonnades.  Various ornamental plants and statues could be found in the garden.  If the family was especially prosperous, there might also be fountains, pools, murals, and running water.  However even humbler houses would have an opening in the ceiling and some potted herbs and flowers.

The Garden of the House of the Golden Cupids (Pompeii)

For security reasons Roman urban houses did not usually have windows facing the street, so the garden (and the formal atrium at the front of the house) became the source of fresh air as well as water.  Fragrant, herbs, shrubs and flowers were carefully cultivated amidst complementary artworks. We have paintings of these gardens, and literary descriptions, but, best of all, we have examples of the gardens themselves from Pompeii.  Although the actual plants from Pompeian villas emerged worse for the wear after being entombed for centuries beneath volcanic ash, the statues and decorations remained.  This post contains photos of how some of these actual Roman gardens look when replanted and tended.

Peristyle Garden at the “House of Menander,” Pompeii

The old-fashioned Roman domus began to vanish in the 6th century AD as Christianity became universal, but the peristyle did not vanish.  The peristyle garden evolved into the atrium of the Basillica–and then the concept became even more removed from the mundane world as it changed into the monastic cloister.

Outer Peristyle at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles

The Huntington Botanical Gardens

Yesterday’s post concerning Pluto, Greco-Roman lord of the underworld contained a photograph of a beautiful two-thousand year old statue as well as one of the greatest and most harrowing of classical myths–but I am afraid it incorrectly tinted my recent trip to California with somber shades.  So today I have decided to describe the roses from the Huntington Botanical Garden in San Marino (just outside Pasadena).  This garden was once the home of a railroad baron who grabbed control of the steel rails which tied California together.  He was a rare book collector (which I will get back to on Monday) and a lover of gardens.

A Tiny Portion of the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Gardens

All of the gardens at the Huntington were unreasonably lovely.  The grounds contained both a large Japanese garden and a magnificent Chinese garden.  I didn’t even get to see the world famous desert garden and I am still regretting it.  However the real highlight for me was the rose garden.  Pasadena styles itself as the city of roses. The city hosts a rose parade and some sort of huge rose bowl for college sportsmen.  There is a reason for all of the fanfare—the roses everywhere in Pasadena and the towns nearby were beautiful. But the roses at the Huntington Botanical Garden were ineffably transcendentally gorgeous.  It was the most splendid rose garden I have ever seen.

Some of the Roses at the Huntington Gardens

Here is the description of the garden as lifted wholesale from the Huntington website:

The three and a half acre rose garden was designed by Myron Hunt and first planted by William Hertrich as a display garden in 1908. In the 1970s, the garden was reorganized as a “collection garden” with more than 1,200 cultivars (approx 4,000 individual plants) arranged historically to trace the development of roses from ancient to modern times beginning with the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.

The entrance pathway leads to an 18th-century French stone tempietto and statue, “Love, the Captive of Youth,” encircled by “French Lace” roses. The beds north of the arbor next to the Shakespeare Garden have a paved walk, and feature Tea and China roses and their descendants, first introduced into Europe from China around 1900.

On the south side of the rose arbor are nineteenth-century shrub roses, descended from old European varieties. Climbing and rambling roses—from all periods and groups—grow on the arbors, arches, and pergolas.

The central part of the garden contains Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Polyanthas, and miniatures, with separate beds for classic pre-1920 hybrid teas and for roses from the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s. Other beds feature roses introduced since the 1950s and introductions from abroad, including recent plantings of roses from India.

This somewhat dry text indeed explains the basics of the garden, but, alas, there is a terrible frustration in trying to convey the true nature of such a place.  The roses were all perfect.  Each blossom was the size of a dinner plate and every rose was blooming.  By some magical circumstance we visited the garden at peak season.  The heady scent of roses wafted on the warm breeze and time seemed to dilate. Yesterday I wrote about the mythical gardens of the underworld.  Today I am writing about the gardens of paradise—which, somewhat surprisingly, are real and are located just to the southwest of Pasadena.

The Temple of Love from the Rose Garden at Huntington Gardens

The Bailey Fountain (beautifully photographed with the arch behind it by Wally Gobetz)

I love fountains and my home, New York City, is an excellent place to witness all manner of lovely ornamental waterworks.  No doubt other bloggers have extolled Manhattan’s many famous fountains, so I thought I would briefly write about my favorite fountain in Brooklyn, the Bailey Fountain, which is located at Grand Army Plaza at the north end of Prospect Park.  The fountain lies beyond the huge triumphal arch which celebrates the victorious conclusion of the American Civil War.  Both fountain and arch lie on a traffic island surrounded at all times by dangerous rivers of vehicles.

Wisdom and Felicity form the Bailey Fountain (another fine photo by Wally Gobetz)

The Bailey Fountain was conceived of during the late nineteen twenties but it was built in 1932.  The tension between these two very different eras is noticeable in the ferocity and severity of the classical figures.  The fountain seems to be an allegory of abundance however the individual figures look like they instead portray greed, abandon, and resignation. The fountain is the work of architect Edgerton Swarthout and the bronze sculptures were crafted by Eugene Savage. I think the final work might transcend what either had initially intended.

The Bailey Fountain (photo from "Tugster: a Waterblog")

Bailey fountain portrays a pair of magnificent bronze nudes standing on the deck of a ship. The two respectively represent wisdom and felicity.  I assume the man is wisdom and the woman is felicity, but it is not easy to tell because she does not look happy and he does not look wise.  Although they both look powerful the figures seem wan and resigned.  Additionally, although they are connected, their backs are forever turned to each other. A bestial Neptune sprawls on the prow as grim Tritons sound horns and writhe on both sides of the boat.  Strange frog and fish faces spew white water around the tormented figures.  The boat and its inhabitants represent humankind and the figures in the water represent chance and the forces of nature.  When contemplating the fountain it is easy to pitch your mind back to the time of the great depression and see Neptune and his fierce watery compatriots as the unquenchable appetite and greed which spawned the many hardships of that era.

FFigure of King Neptune from the Bailey Fountain (www.nyc-architecture.com)

The Bailey fountain replaced a bizarre Victorian electric water show which was the rainbow-colored high-pressured wonder of its time (but which did not hold up well since it combined early electrical technology, 19th century plumbing, and Brooklyn winters).  I first saw the Bailey fountain in the mid-nineties when it was broken and dry: large portions of the work were painted the same aqua blue as swimming pools.  The plaza seemed deserted except for the eternal traffic, the sinister vine covered trees, and a huge tribe of rats.  Great hunks of granite pavement had been broken apart by frost heave (or some other urban force) and melancholy pervaded the scene.  A lone homeless person sidled up and sadly informed me that the fountain was haunted and, in the lugubrious twilight, I half believed him.  Today, however, the fountain has been restored, and you can contemplate its enigmatic meaning in a much more pleasant surrounding.

Bronze triton from the Bailey Fountain (photo from "Tugster: a Water Blog")

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