Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

Catalog Data

Zinc, paint
Top, Boy: 45 × 22 in. (114.3 × 55.9 cm)
Middle Basin: 5 × 47 in. (12.7 × 119.4 cm)
Base: 44 1/2 × 38 in. (113 × 96.5 cm)
Renaissance Revival
ca. 1870-1874
Victorian (1837-1901)
Cast-zinc fountain with boy holding sword on a dolphin base. The boy stands with his foot on a rock, his right arm raising an object that acts as a water spout, and in his other hand he holds a sword. The figure is nude except for a swath of fabric draped about his waist. Below the statue is a basin in the form of a ring of half shells. The basin in elevated on a basal stem with Renaissance Revival style dolphins around it. The major characteristics of the art, architecture, and decorative arts produced in nineteenth century are historicism, eclecticism, and mixing multiple styles together. Renaissance Revival style was a popular style of the Victorian era in the United States. It emerged as early as the 1840s and experienced renewed interest in 1890s. Renaissance Revival was a continuation of the Neoclassicism of the early nineteenth century and was vaguely related to actual objects from the Renaissance period. Renaissance Revival motifs included scrolling foliage called rinceaux, fruit garlands, masks, satyrs, egg-and-dart decoration, friezes, putti, armorial shields, palmettes, scrolls, grotesques, lions, water plant motifs, anthemia, oval medallions, bosses and strapwork, dolphins, Caryatid figures, and architectural elements such as columns, pilasters, pediments, and cornices.
Label Text:
Early in American history, a time when life was more about survival than decoration, water was collected from civic wells and fountains and used for irrigation, cooking, drinking, animals, and cleaning. By nineteenth century, fountains and other water features became decorative accents for the home or garden, enjoyed for the sound and play of light offered by cascading water. In the nineteenth century, systems of mass production and growth of the cast iron industry made fountains accessible to wider audience, including the middle class, yet they remained a symbol of elegance and pretention. By the mid-nineteenth century, fountain components were mass produced. Cast-iron pieces were created by pouring molten iron into molds of compressed sand. Once the iron had cooled, it was removed from the mold. Rough places and sharp edges were then filed away before the piece was bolted together. It would then be painted, varnished, galvanized, or bronzed several times to prevent rust. Since cast iron pieces were made in components and bolted together, numerous combinations were possible. Consumers were able to select from a range of figures, basins, sprays, and pedestals to create a somewhat customized fountain. The Victorian taste for highly ornate was fulfilled by the malleability of metal, which allowed for every surface to be covered with ornamental patterns and botanical subjects. Designs followed the trends of the time with natural forms, ornamental motifs pulled from historic revival styles, and complicated shapes. This satisfied the nineteenth-century tendency to combine of styles, along with elaborate, often whimsical motifs were available through the numerous options for waterspouts, fountain figures, balusters, basins, and coping—molded edging—for fountains.
fountains  Search this
zinc  Search this
dolphin supports  Search this
Garden ornaments and furniture  Search this
water features  Search this
Credit Line:
Smithsonian Gardens, Horticultural Artifacts Collection.
Accession number:
Restrictions & Rights:
Usage conditions apply
See more items in:
Horticultural Artifacts Collection
Data Source:
Smithsonian Gardens