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: A Venetian Well-Head


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Ever since the days of ancient Rome the Italians have taken care to ornament the well-heads which adorned the courtyards of their houses. It is interesting in looking through the Roman Forum to see how many well-heads have been found belonging to the adjacent houses. The form of these was, for the most part, round and almost all of them are worn by the ropes used in lowering the buckets for water. It was not very necessary for the Roman citizens in the time of the late Republic and early Empire to provide themselves with wells, because the water brought into the city by the great aqueducts was of sufficient volume for everyone’s needs. Nevertheless there were certain ceremonies which required the use of water from a spring or well. It was also a great advantage to have well water for washing since it was much softer than the water which came from the limestone Appenines through the aqueducts. Thus it came about that almost every atrium had its puteal as well as its impluvium. These wells became vastly more important in the later days after the cutting of the aqueducts by the barbarians, and with the coming of the middle ages and thee unsettled conditions of government the source of water supply became restricted to the rain water that could be stored in cisterns and to the ground water which could be had from the wells.The Gothic and Renaissance periods brought about no great change in hygienic conditions, but instead, they brought the desire for an artistic treatment of every kind of domestic furniture. Among other things, the well-heads came in for decoration and certain types became very familiar. The old round shape of the real puteal disappeared, but in its stead there came to be used a form resembling the Corinthian capital which may be explained by the fact that the Roman remains in all parts of Italy were ransacked for building material at this time. Undoubtedly many Corinthian capitals were hollowed out and used for well-heads. Certainly the form of decoration used on them was transferred to the new made curbs.The Institute has recently acquired from the income of the Dunwoody Fund a fine example of a XV century well-head which is now on exhibition in the Gothic room. It is square on top and round at the bottom, made of a rather coarse marble, originally of a creamy white now so stained with age and dirt as to be hardly recognizable. On one side is an angel holding a shield supported by two lions passant. Upon this shield originally there was probably painted the owner’s coat of arms. On the opposite side is a rampant lion bearing a column. On the other two sides are vases; one holding acanthus leaves and the other flowers. On each corner a large acanthus leaf springs from the rounding lower margin to the square top and comes out in a point to support the corner. Around the top runs an interesting moulding reminding one of a twisted rope, surmounted by a second moulding of diamond shaped dentils. At the top of the well are a number of holes where the iron hinges and lock of the iron cover originally were fastened. This well-head comes from the courtyard of the Palazzo Zorzi, and is reproduced in Ognania’s interesting publication on Venetian well-heads.Referenced Work of Art
  1. XV century Venetian well-head
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Source: Margaret T. Jackson, "A Venetian Well-Head," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 4, no. 7 (July, 1915): 74-75.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009