A European walk through Bordeaux. 3
3- The Visconti Fountains
Place de la Bourse
Louis Tullius Joachim Visconti was born in Rome on 11 February 1791 at Palazzo Chigi, opposite the Giacomo della Porta fountain, into a famous family of Italian archaeologists. His grandfather, Giovanni Battista Antonio Visconti (1722-1784), founded the Vatican Museum of which his father was the curator. During his childhood in Rome, he experienced the hardships of his father, Ennio Quirino Visconti (1751-1818), who after being appointed Minister of the Interior on the arrival of the French had to then abandon Italy to take refuge in Paris. His mother, left alone with her two children in Rome, was prosecuted and all her property confiscated.
However, after the Battle of Marengo, the French government gave the order to return all the confiscated property and provided her with the means to reach France. When Visconti arrived in Paris in 1801, he was 10 years old. Following in the steps of his father, he was appointed curator of antiquities and paintings at the Louvre, and would go on to occupy the most senior positions. In 1840, he created the ceremony held to mark the return of Napoleon’s ashes, then built the tomb at the Invalides. In 1853, he was placed in charge of connecting the Louvre and the Tuileries.
Visconti spent all his childhood in Rome, the city of 2,000 fountains, at which time he developed a passion that would never leave him. For twenty years, from 1824 to 1849, Visconti worked almost continuously on the four fountains of Paris (a symbolic and prophetic number): the Gaillon fountain (1824-1828), the Louvois fountain (1835-1839), the Molière fountain (1841-1843) and the Saint-Sulpice fountain (1842-1848). Visconti had dreamt of these Parisian fountains, desiring them one after another. As soon as a site became vacant in the city, he would imagine building a fountain there. Placed in charge of demolishing the expiatory chapel in Rue de Richelieu, he thought about installing the Louvois fountain there in homage to the four great rivers of France, the predecessor of the fountain in Bordeaux. And when the site slipped away, like in 16th century Rome, he used the back of the buildings at the crossroads in Rue Richelieu to build the Molière fountain.
These fountains were indeed his most famous works. Eight years before his death, he was preparing a major work, as a form of testament, writing a text presenting each fountain, his preferred creations. When he learned, in 1852, that the government had authorised the city of Bordeaux to borrow funds to build monumental fountains, he began preparing three projects: the Fontaine de Mercure [Fountain of Mercury] for Place Dauphine, the fountain of the city of Bordeaux for Place des Quinconces and the Fontaine des Trois Grâces [Fountain of the Three Graces], originally intended to replace the Tourny statue.
Visconti did not have time to build his fifth fountain. Nor to see the Louvre connected to the Tuileries as he had imagined. He died of a heart attack in 1853. His son – who signed the work devoted to the fountains – offered the city the drawings Visconti had not been able to send, to pass on “the great architect’s last thoughts.” Only one would see the day, the Fontaine des Trois Grâces, which was built in 1869. He had sketched them veiled, but they were built naked. Visconti had imagined them in Place Tourny, but they are in fact in Place de la Bourse. Today, Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia pour their liquid grace there, in echo to the stone pediments on which… …
Louis Visconti – Fontaine Louvois, Rue de Richelieu à Paris.
Louis Visconti : Projet pour la Grande Fontaine de Bordeaux, Place des Quinconces.
Louis Visconti. Projet pour la fontaine de Mercure, Place Dauphine, Bordeaux [Gambetta actuelle].
Louis Visconti : Projet pour la Fontaine des Trois-Grâces à Bordeaux.