- Place of origin:
ca. 1536 (made)
da Rovezzano, Benedetto, born 1474 - died 1554 (designer and maker)
- Materials and Techniques:
Bronze, brass, copper, lead and marble
- Credit Line:
Lent by the National Trust
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 50a, The Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery, case FS 
This fountain was originally in the great court of Cowdray House in Sussex which burned down in 1793 and is now a ruin. The fountain was transferred to Woolbeding House nearby, which came into the care of the National Trust in 1956, and in 1971 the Trust placed the fountain on indefinite loan in the Museum.
The fountain is attributed to the Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano, who was working in England from 1524 until 1543. The trident is modern, and the figure, despite the dolphins, was not necessarily meant to represent Neptune, who is normally shown bearded. A drawing of 1783 by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm of the great court at Cowdray (in the British Museum) shows that the dragon-head taps were originally used for filling buckets for use in the house.
Fountain in eleven pieces. The fountain is topped by a statuette of a male figure (part 2), holding a triton which is also not original, and a dolphin. The figure has a pipe in his mouth out of which water would have run. The figure is standing above a lead orb (part 4) surrounded by a circlet of dolphins (part 3), and among the dolphins are four upward turned pipes out of which the water also came. This is mounted on a narrow stem, which stops at a small basin. Around the edge of the basin are four Medusa-head masks through the mouths of which ran the water from the basin, and down into the larger stone basin. Below the bronze basin is a stone and bronze stem, and below that is an octagonal marble base. Currently on this base are four dragon heads, through whose mouths there are pipes for water to run, which were originally on the basin.
Place of Origin
ca. 1536 (made)
da Rovezzano, Benedetto, born 1474 - died 1554 (designer and maker)
Materials and Techniques
Bronze, brass, copper, lead and marble
Weight: 3718 kg basin, Weight: 630 kg without crowning, Height: 335 cm including base, Diameter: 434 cm existing basin, Width: 108 cm including base
Object history note
The fountain comes from the great court of Cowdray House, Sussex, an early Tudor house. Cowdray was burned down in 1793, and the fountain was transferred to Woolbeding House nearby which had been sold by Rev. Sir Charles Mill in 1791 to Lord Robert Spencer. Woolbeding came into the care of the National Trust in 1956 after the death of the owner Edward Charles Ponsonby Lascelles. In 1971 the Trust placed the fountain, then in a poor state of repair, on indefinite loan in the Museum to ensure its preservation. The Museum provided a replica for Woolbeding House.
The fountain was initially displayed in the Raphael Cartoon court (gallery 48A), complete with water and fully functioning. The basin used at Woolbeding dated from the same time as the installation but was different to that used at Cowdray. The stone basin produced for its display was a replica of the larger nineteenth-century basin made when it moved to Woolbeding. Drawings by Samuel Hieronymous Grimm (British Museum) show the fountain at Cowdray on its original basin that was higher and much less wide. The dragon-head taps now mounted on the central plinth were originally set on the coping of the parapet of the basin. A maid is shown approaching the fountain with a bucket, and it is clear that these taps served for the domestic water-supply. The fountain was fed from a cistern in a separate octagonal conduit-house. Water originally fell into the bowl from jets in the mouth and the penis of the figure. Later the system was modified so that it was instead projected upwards from four jets concealed in the top of the lead ball behind the ring of dolphins. From the bowl it fell into the basin through pipes concealed in the mouths of the Medusa masks. The trident is modern, and the figure, despite the dolphins, was not necessarily intended to represent Neptune, who is normally shown with a beard.
Water system: There is evidence in the system of at least one re-installation and probably two: new internal screw threads, new internal piping, and some new jet nozzles have been installed, presumably at the time of the move to Woolbeding, since the new threads are mechanically cut. However, there is no visible evidence that the system of jets has been basically altered at any time, or that any new jets have been added, or, with one exception, any old jets blocked up. The fountain has a total of thirteen issues for water, of which nine are jets operating under pressure, and four are overspills operating by gravity.
The system is fed through a large pipe which runs upwards from the bottom of the fountain without any outlet until it reaches the lead globe on which the figure stands. The figure is bolted onto the lead globe with three brass bolts. The water was fed through a hole in the base of the figure which corresponds with a hole in the top of the lead globe, and originally was piped through the right leg of the figure to supply a small round jet in the figure’s mouth. This passage is now blocked with a lead plug inside the base under the right foot. It seems possible that this passage may have been blocked on installation at Woolbeding, perhaps because water pressure was insufficient to supply all the jets adequately, and possibly in view of the re-siting at this time of the dragon heads lower down on the central element (see below).
The lead globe on which the figure stands has four fine jets projecting vertically from its upper surface. The seats of these jets appear to be old, but the nozzles are of brass with mechanical threads, and must be comparatively modern replacements. The base of the figure is slightly cut away in four places to fit inside these four jets. The four vertical jets on the globe are concealed by the ring of four dolphins which fits around the outside of the upper part of the globe, and also conceals the join between the figure and the globe. The ring of dolphins is an independent element and quite separate from the water system. It has no jets. Nor, more surprisingly perhaps, does the dolphin at the feet of the figure. The lead ball is hollow, and now encloses a length of modern brass pipe which is hosed so as to distribute the water to the four jets.
The baluster stem which supports the lead ball has no issues for water. It is made of bronze, and is packed with lead inside, leaving a pipe up through the middle of about 1¼ ins diameter. Presumably this is to concentrate the water supply so that the pressure is not dissipated before it reaches the jets above.
Three rough holes of varying diameter are bored into the base of the baluster stem. They are irregularly disposed and crudely cut. They do not appear to be original. They do not connect with the water supply and their purpose is not obvious. It does seem fairly clear that they are makeshift, and a possible explanation is that they were bored in an attempt either to remove a blockage or to bypass a blockage which might have developed below.
The bottom of the baluster stem is shaped so as to fit tightly over a boss in the centre of the bronze basin below. A hole roughly 1¼ ins in diameter in the centre of the boss corresponds with the hole bored through the lead filling of the baluster stem, and this hole continues at a constant bore and without interruption or outlet down to the base of the whole assembly.
Just below the lip of the basin are inserted four short copper pipes which appear to be modern replacements. These allow the water which falls into the basin from the jets above to spill over below the lip into the outer marble basin. Over these overspill pipes fit the four masks so that the pipes protrude through their mouths. The masks are rather roughly hooked to the lip of the basin by lead hook-shaped straps. This appears to be a somewhat makeshift arrangement, but they appear to occupy exactly this position in the Grimm drawings.
The remaining issues for water consist of four bronze dragon heads with the necks shaped so as to fit inside an element in the form of dragon wings. At Woolbeding these were placed on the octagonal marble plinth which supports the stand of the bronze basin. However the Grimm drawings show that at Cowdray they were placed, facing inwards, on the outer edge of the marble basin. This latter arrangement would appear to make sense, since the jets in the dragon heads are of comparatively large bore, and the water would issue from them roughly at the rate of a domestic tap, rather than in the concentrated squirt of the upper jets. The Grimm drawings show a woman approaching the fountain with a bucket, which would seem to indicate that the fountain performed a practical function as a part of the regular domestic water supply of the house. Placed on the parapet of the outer marble basin, these dragon heads would be accessible to someone filling a bucket. As arranged on the central assembly at Woolbeding, they would have been totally inaccessible, and would also have been too close to the water-level to have provided a very effective decorative function. They may have been placed in the centre when the fountain was re-assembled so as to simplify the plumbing system, but one would imagine that in this position they may also have dissipated the pressure supplying the high-pressure jets above, and it could be because of this that the top jet of the fountain which issued through the mouth of the figure was blocked up.
Historical significance: The figurative elements of the fountain, all in cast bronze (the figure, the upper baluster stem, the four Medusa masks on the bowl and the dragon-head taps below), are in a distinctively Florentine style of the first quarter of the sixteenth century, and this, together with the fact that the first known mention of the fountain was by Horace Walpole in 1749, has led to an assumption that the fountain was imported from Italy by the sixth Viscount Montague in the early 18th century. But two factors are against this: the first is the motif of the Tudor rose repeated nine times around the middle of the upper baluster stem, which indicates that the fountain was made for an English patron; the second is the distinctively Northern Renaissance character of the copper bowl and the bulbous support for this with its lozenges and roundels inlaid in lead. Its under-side has heavy ornamental beading inlaid with lead, to give a polychrome effect, and the depressed globe underneath has oval medallions with raised rims also inlaid in lead. The total effect of this section is of Northern Renaissance design, very much in the style of what one knows of French Renaissance fountains as recorded by Jacques Androuet DuCerceau (1515-1585), and is consistent within a Tudor context. Also, the awkward way in which the masks fit onto the bronze basin (they seem to have been made to fit a sharper curve) seems to suggest either a re-installation or an installation by someone other than the original artist on a newly made basin.
It might still be possible to suppose that the principal elements of the fountain were ordered by an English patron from Florence, and that on delivery it was completed and installed by English craftsmen, were it not for the fact that the prime candidate for its authorship was working in England during the very years when Fitzwilliam was rebuilding Cowdray. This is the Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano (1474-c. 1554), who from 1524 had been employed by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (c. 1473-1530) at Windsor on the construction of a huge tomb of bronze and marble for himself in the rebuilt "tomb-house" to the east of St George's Chapel (this was later transformed into the present Albert Memorial Chapel).
Cardinal Wolsey was King Henry VIII’s chancellor, as well as his "Legate a latere" (a specially appointed representative of the Pope). King Henry therefore hoped that Wolsey could persuade the Pope to grant him a divorce from Catherine of Aragorn. However Wolsey was unsuccessful, and in 1529 was dismissed as Chancellor and subsequently stripped of most of his titles and finally ordered out of London in April 1530, when he went to York as Archbishop of York. Later that year King Henry decided to arrest Wolsey and put him in the Tower of London but Wolsey died during the journey south.
After Wolsey's downfall, Benedetto returned briefly to Florence, but returned 1530 to be employed by King Henry in order to take over Wolsey's great tomb for himself and complete it on a greatly enlarged scale. Benedetto set up a new workshop at Westminster, where, with the Florentine sculptor Giovanni da Maiano (a former employee of Wolsey at Hampton Court) as his principal assistant, he employed a large number of bronze-founders and craftsmen, Florentine, English and probably also Flemish. The tomb was one of the most ambitious in Europe after Michelangelo's project for Pope Julius II, but was apparently abandoned by King Henry in 1536 not yet quite complete, probably because of its colossal expense. The last recorded payment being made to Benedetto was in August of that year. In 1646 the tomb was broken up by order of Parliament and its numerous bronze statues, statuettes, candelabra and other decorative elements were sold to raise money to pay the garrison at Windsor. The only parts of it which survive today are the sarcophagus in black touchstone which was re-used for the tomb of Nelson in St Paul's Cathedral, and four of its original eight huge bronze candlesticks, nine feet high, which were sold to the Flemish Bishop Triest and are now in the cathedral of St Bavon in Ghent.
The four large candlesticks now in Ghent (a plaster cast of one of these is in the V&A: Repro.1865-47), compare very closely with the upper baluster stem of the fountain both in their general design and in the details of their decorative repertory, and they also bear the repeated device of the Tudor rose. These candlesticks date from the period of Benedetto's work on the tomb for the King, 1531-36.
The figure which surmounts the fountain is consistent with what is known of Benedetto's figure-style. Its pose is most likely adapted from that of Michelangelo's bronze David (now lost), which is known from a drawing in the Louvre. The statue was commissioned from Michelangelo in 1502 but was abandoned unfinished in 1503. Benedetto finished and mounted the bronze David as a fountain in 1508, as a present from the Signoria of Florence to Florimond Robertet, the French Treasurer. The Medusa masks around the basin also show the influence of Leonardo da Vinci, with whose work Benedetto would have been thoroughly conversant.
Not only is the fountain an echo of the great lost tomb of Henry VIII, and thus a reminder of some of the vanished splendours of the early Tudor court, but it is the only complete surviving fountain by a Florentine sculptor of the early 16th century.
(For original, and unpublished, texts by Anthony Radcliffe see object file in Sculpture section)
Historical context note
The building of Cowdray was begun soon after 1492 by Sir David Owen. In 1529 it was bought by Sir William Fitzwilliam, Lord High Admiral of England, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Keeper of the Privy Seal, later created Earl of Southampton, and an intimate friend of King Henry VIII since early childhood. Fitzwilliam took up residence in 1535 and continued the building on an ambitious scale. Fitzwilliam died in 1542, and Cowdray House passed to his half-brother, Sir Anthony Browne, who completed the building. Browne's son was created first Viscount Montague, and the house remained in the possession of successive Viscounts Montague until 1793, the year both of the fire and of the death of the eighth and last Viscount. Cowdray House was never rebuilt, however the ruins remain.
Sir William Fitzwilliam began his transformation of Cowdray in 1535, and the last recorded payment to Benedetto for work on the King's tomb was made in August 1536. It is not known how long Benedetto remained in England after this: the next notice of him is back in Florence in 1543, when he made his will there. If, as seems likely, we are to suppose that the fountain was ordered from Benedetto by Fitzwilliam for Cowdray, the most opportune time for this would have been directly after the cessation of work on Henry's tomb, since, so long as he was under contract to the King for that colossal project, Benedetto would hardly have been free to undertake a work of this magnitude. The King was Fitzwilliam's guest at Cowdray in 1538, and it seems possible that the fountain might have been commissioned in anticipation of that occasion.
Fountain designed and made by Benedetto da Rovezzano for Cowdray House, about 1536. Bronze, brass, copper, lead and marble.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Lindley, Philip 'Playing check-mate with Royal Majesty? Wolsey's patronage of Italian Renaissance sculpture' in Cardinal Wolsey: Church, State and Art by SJ Gunn and PG Lindley, Cambridge 1991. pp261-87
Pope-Hennessy, J 'A Fountain by Rustici' in The V&A Yeabook 4 London, 1974. pp2-37
Avery, Charles Fingerprints of the Artist: European Terracotta from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections Exhibition catalogue, Washington, 1981. p251 (Medusa bronze mask)
Davis, Charles 'Bassorilievi di Giovan Francesco Rustici' in Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz XXXIX, 1995, I. p120, n.36
Higgens, A 'On the work of Florentine Sculptors in England' in Archaeological Journal LI, 1894. pp129-220
Howard, Bridget. Cowdray and the iconography of Henry VIII. Sussex Archaeological Collections. Vol. 149, 2011, pp. 173-84.
Sénéchal, Philippe, Giovan Francesco Rustici, 1475-1554: un sculpteur de la Renaissance entre Florence et Paris, Paris, 2007, pp. 249-250.
Labels and date
This is the only Florentine bronze fountain surviving from the early sixteenth century. It comprises a figure of a youth standing on a ring of dolphins, a bronze foliated stem, and a cylix above a bronze support. Water pours from the cylix through four Medusa masks into the basin beneath. Round the central support are four gryphon heads which originally served as taps. The fountain is the work of GIOVANNI FRANCESCO RUSTICI, the best known Florentine bronze sculptor of his time, whose reputation rests on the group of the Preaching of the Baptist over the north door of the Baptistry in Florence (1506-11) and on his close association with Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo is traditionally supposed to have intervened in the designing of the Baptistry group, and his influence on Rustici is reflected in a number of terracotta groups of fighting warriors, based on preparatory studies for Leonardo's fresco of the Battle of Anghiari. In the present fountain the Medusa masks also reveal the strong influence of Leonardo. It is likely that the whole work dates from about 1506, when contact between the two artists was especially intimate. The quality of the cylix and of the support beneath is inferior to that of the upper figure, the stem above the basin and the Medusa masks. It is uncertain whether the male figure represents Neptune or a river god. The trident is modern. Nothing is known of the early history of the fountain. It is first recorded in 1749, when it stood in the courtyard of Cowdray House (Sussex) and was the property of the sixth Viscount Montague. When Cowdray was burned down in 1793, it was transferred to a neighbouring house, Woolbeding. On the death of the owner E.C.P. Lascelles, in 1956, Woolbeding House became the property of the National Trust. The installation of the fountain reproduces that at Woolbeding, where the stone surround dated from the late eighteenth century. Water was originally extruded from the penis as well as from the mouth of the male figure, and from the gryphon heads which were set facing inwards on the surround. 
The fountain comes from the great court of Cowdray House, Sussex. Cowdray burned down in 1793, and the fountain was transferred to Woolbeding House nearby. Woolbeding came into the care of the National Trust in 1956, and in 1971 the Trust placed the fountain on indefinite loan in the Museum.
One of the greatest early Tudor Houses, Cowdray was begun soon after 1492. In 1529 it was bought by Sir William Fitzwilliam, Lord High Admiral of England, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Keeper of the Privy Seal, later Earl of Southampton, an intimate friend since early childhood of King Henry VIII, who from 1535 continued the building on an ambitious scale. The fountain is in a distinctively Florentine style, and the motif of the Tudor rose repeated nine times around the middle of the upper baluster stem proves that it was made for England. Comparison with the work of the Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano leaves no room for doubt that the fountain is by him. Benedetto was in England from 1524, when he was employed by Cardinal Wolsey on the construction of a huge tomb for himself at Windsor. After Wolsey’s downfall in 1529 the tomb was taken over by King Henry VIII for his own use, and from 1530 Benedetto was retained by the King to complete it on a greatly enlarged scale. The tomb, one of the most ambitious sculptural projects ever conceived, with numerous bronze statues and statuettes, was abandoned in the summer of 1536, not yet quite complete, probably because the King could no longer afford the huge expense. How long Benedetto remained in London after that is not known, but he was back in Florence by 1543. In 1646 the tomb was broken up by order of Parliament and its bronzes sold to pay the garrison at Windsor. The only parts of it which survive today are the black marble sarcophagus which was re-used for the tomb of Lord Nelson in St Paul’s Cathedral, and four of its original eight bronze candlesticks, nine feet high, which were sold to the Flemish Bishop Triest and are now in the cathedral of St Bavon in Ghent. A plaster cast of one of these candlesticks can be seen in the Italian Cast Court, Room 46B.
The abandoning of work on the King’s tomb in 1536 coincides with Fitzwilliam’s rebuilding of Cowdray House, and it seems likely that the fountain was ordered by Fitzwilliam from Benedetto at this time, when Benedetto was free from his contract to the King. It may well be that it was installed by the time Henry visited Cowdray in 1538, by which time the rebuilding was already well advanced. It would have been made in the foundry at Westminster which Benedetto had set up for his work on the King’s tomb.
The pose of the figure surmounting the fountain is adapted from that of Michelangelo’s bronze David, now lost, but known from a drawing in the Louvre. After Michelangelo abandoned his bronze David unfinished in 1503, it was Benedetto who was charged by the Signoria of Florence in 1508 with finishing it and mounting it as a fountain to be sent to France. The Medusa masks around the bowl show the influence of Leonardo da Vinci; a closely similar mask appears on an altar by Benedetto in the church of Santa Trinita in Florence.
A drawing of 1783 by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm of the great court at Cowdray shows the fountain in its original setting and with its original basin which was higher and less wide than the present basin, which follows that of the early 19th century re-installation at Woolbeding. It shows the dragon-head taps which are now mounted on the central plinth in their original positions on the parapet of the basin, where they were used for filling buckets for the domestic water-supply (a maid is shown in the drawing approaching the fountain with a bucket). The fountain was fed from a great octagonal conduit-house, which still survives as a ruin at Cowdray. Originally water fell into the bowl from two jets in the mouth and penis of the statuette, but the system was later modified so that it was projected upwards through four jets which can be seen behind the ring of dolphins on the top of the ball beneath the statuette. From the bowl it fell through pipes concealed in the mouths of the Medusa masks into the basin.
The trident is modern, and the figure, despite the dolphins, was not necessarily meant to represent Neptune, who is normally shown bearded.
Caption for photograph: The Great Court at Cowdray House, by Samuel Hieronymous Grimm, 1783 (British Museum). 
Bronze; Brass; Copper; Lead; Marble