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Historical scholarship often points to early modern fountains as prime examples of the contemporary ambition to achieve mastery over nature. Water was brought to previously dry places, and made to perform such unnatural feats as springing upwards, defying gravity. Drawing on a comparison of garden fountains in early modern Tuscany and Holland, this paper shows that the contemporary experience of fountains was as much about human mastery over water as it was about the surrender of control: the sudden spurts, jets, and splashes were meant to surprise, disorient, throw off. The behaviour of water was intended to subvert expectations, and it did: visitors remarked on their bewilderment, astonishment, and awe. The contemporary experience of fountains in both Tuscan and Dutch gardens was also gendered: women’s control over water was especially limited. The traditional view of fountains as monuments to human control over water is thus in need of revision: for contemporaries, this coexisted with an understanding of fountains as sites where water could surprise humans, especially women.

Having completed his PhD dissertation entitled ‘Hydraulic philosophy in early modern European cities’ at St John’s College, Cambridge, Davide Martino has recently been appointed as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Art History, University of Bern.  He has previously held posts as an associate researcher at the Amsterdam Centre for Urban History and as a visiting scholar at the European University Institute in Florence and at the Institut für Europäischer Kulturgeschichte at Augsburg University. He has also worked as a primary school teacher and remains passionate about the role of education in society.

Please note that this session has been moved to the 25 April 2024.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend but booking is required.