The Kings of France spent most of their time hunting with their packs of hounds, so the image of Diana the Huntress appears everywhere. This fountain, in the gardens at Fontainebleau, features Diana, handsome stags, and several peeing dogs. The dogs look rather sad, or maybe just worn out from the day’s hunt. They sit on their pedestal, peeing in unison into the pool beneath them.
Whose idea was this fountain? It was built by Henri IV in 1602. He was an unpopular king during his reign, because he was entangled in the religious wars of his time. In fact, he was finally assassinated, after surviving at least 12 attempts. Once he was dead, his reputation improved greatly and he came to be known as “Good King Henri” because he really tried to improve the welfare of his people.
This particular fountain used to be in a private garden reserved for royalty. Reportedly Henri went to some trouble to get the bronze hounds–they were formerly in the Louvre, and he requisitioned them for this fountain. Then there was the matter of plumbing. The result gives us an idea of what royalty four centuries ago considered whimsical. I can’t help thinking this fountain is a bit cheesy, like something from a catalog found in an airplane pocket.
Today, the forests of Fontainebleau are open to all. Millions of French people flock there for hiking, rock climbing and generally escaping from nearby Paris. A much smaller number visit the Chateau, one of the largest and most historic in France.
A visit to the Chateau is tiring for the tourist. The day I was there recently, there were no audioguides available, and many whole sections were closed, with no explanation. Every caption was written only in French. I could not find a single English-speaking person on staff. I bought a little guidebook and made do. Still, I’d go again and hope for a more user-friendly experience. Fontainebleau preserves part of the colorful history of each century it has been a seat of the Kings of France. Every King left his mark, and the Emperor Napoleon most of all. And Fontainebleau is much less crowded than Versailles.
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!