Tommaso and Alessandro Francini

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Abraham Bosse after Francini, one of the (unbuilt?) fountains of St-Germain-en-Laye, 1624.

Tommaso Francini, Thomas Francine in France, (1571–1651) and his younger brother Alessandro Francini (Alexandre Francine in France) were Florentine hydraulics engineers and garden designers who worked for Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, above all at the Villa Medicea di Pratolino, where Francesco de Vieri described the water features in 1586: "...and at Pratolino, where the statues there turn about, play music, jet streams of water, are so many and such stupendous artworks in hidden places, that one who saw them all together would be in ecstasies over them."[1]

Francesco's heir, his brother Ferdinando, was persuaded to part with them in 1597 by his niece Maria, married to Henri IV.[2] Their first project, begun in 1598, was to provide fountains, grottoes, waterworks and, above all, water-driven automata for the series of garden terraces at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The main feature there was a great fountain, from which water was channeled and conducted in siphon tubes to the reservoir in the vaulted area that supported the terrace. From there, through a series of secondary tubes, the water had sufficient head to operate grotto fountains and animate the elaborate automata that were a prized feature of Francini jeux d'eau. The upper grottoes on the third terrace opened from a Doric gallery and featured a dragon, a water organ and Neptune; on the next level, the Grotto of Hercules was flanked by two further grottoes; that on one side was devoted to Perseus and Andromeda, in which the delicately counterbalanced hero was made to descend from the ceiling by the hidden weight of water and slay a dragon that arose from the basin, and on the other a Grotto of Orpheus. The only trace of these features, whose high maintenance requirements cut their careers short when the court moved permanently to Fontainebleau, are in some engravings by Abraham Bosse, apparently derived from Francini drawings.[3] The waterworks and automata at Saint-Germain-en-Laye were the most elaborate such things that had been seen in France up to that time, and Alexandre Francini's engravings of the brothers' works[4] served to mark a distinct stage in the importation and transformation of Italian features in the creation of the French formal garden (Adams 1979:46) and far beyond: cast-iron versions of Francini's two-basin Fontaine rustique, dripping with stony icicles, were familiar features again in Victorian gardens.

Not all of Tommaso Francini's mechanisms for courtly entertainments were garden features. He was the designer of a revolving stage-set for an elaborately produced pageant, Le ballet de la délivrance de Renaud, presented in January 1617 at the Palais du Louvre; several contemporaries remarked on the impressive innovation, which was reinvented in the late nineteenth century, at the Residenztheater, Munich[5] but no one was more impressed than the poet Giovanni Battista Marino, who was present and recreated the illusion in his directions for L'Adone with its elaborately-staged intermezzi.[6]

In the reign of Louis XIII, Francini remained in the employ of the Marie de' Medici, the Queen Mother.[7] He worked with Salomon de Brosse, engineering the aqueduct that brought water from the little river of Rungis to the gardens and his Medici Fountain and grotto in the Luxembourg Gardens of her Palais de Luxembourg in Paris.[8] Alessandro Francini engraved views of the fountains and brought out a Livre d'architecture in 1631 that featured many fantastically rusticated doorways and gates.[9]

The Francini brothers founded a dynasty of French fountain engineers; a younger Francini worked on fountains in the early stages of Versailles, especially the Grotto of Thetis (completed 1668, described by André Felibien, 1676[10] and demolished for the enlargement of the château 1686). Members of the Francini clan were still at work in the eighteenth century.

Selected works[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Francesco de Vieri, Delle meravigliose opere di Pratolino e d'Amore: "et in Pratolino, perché quelle statue si voltino, suonino, gettino acqua, sono tanti e tanti artifizi stupendi in luoghi occulti, che chi gli vedesse tutti insieme, ne n'andrebbe in estasi". Quoted by Claudio Mutini, "Il Corpo del Gigante: morfologia e varianti 'umanistiche' Aperture (on-line text).
  2. ^ Charles VIII had brought Fra Giocondo from Naples to Château de Blois a century earlier.
  3. ^ Silvio A. Bedini, "The Role of Automata in the History of Technology" Technology and Culture 5.1 (Winter 1964, pp. 24-42) p. 28; see also Louis de Tourrasse, "Le Château-neuf de Saint-Germain-en-Laye: ses terrasses et ses grottes" Gazette des Beaux-Arts 9 (1924), pp 98ff.
  4. ^ His La fontaine rustique, Fontainebleau and Saint-Germain-en'Laye. La Premier Gallérie des Grottes, 1597, are illustrated in Adams 1983:figs. 45, 46.
  5. ^ James Laver's remarks on the innovation by Lautenschläger used in 1896 for presenting Mozart operas, are noted by Harold M. Priest, "Marino, Leonardo, Francini, and the Revolving Stage" Renaissance Quarterly 35.1 (Spring 1982, pp. 36-60) p. 37, note 3.
  6. ^ Priest 1982.
  7. ^ as Intendant général des jardins et fontaines de Royne, sa mère (Adams 1979:58).
  8. ^ See Yves Marie Allain and Janine Christiany, L'art des jardins en Europe, and Luigi Gallo in Paris et ses Fontaines, both which attribute the fountain to Francini. De Brosse is sometimes credited with designing the fountain, but he died in the same year the fountain was built, and before his death he was involved in a lawsuit with Marie de Medici over non-payment of his fee; court documents detailed all the work he had done for the Queen, and there was no mention of the fountain. See Luigi Gallo, pg. 56.
  9. ^ Noted by Anthony Blunt, "Rubens and Architecture"The Burlington Magazine 119 No. 894 (September 1977, pp. 609-619, 621), p. 613 note 19.
  10. ^ Felibien, Description de la grotte de Versailles (Paris 1676)
  11. ^ Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny Taste and the Antique 1981:196.
  12. ^ Chanson 1998.

References[edit]

  • Adams, William Howard, 1979. The French Garden 1500-1800 (New York: Braziller)
  • Marie, Alfred 1955.Jardins français créés à la renaissance
  • Paris et ses fontaines, de la Renaissance à nos jours, texts assembled by Dominque Massounie, Pauline-Prevost-Marcilhacy and Daniel Rabreau, Délegation à l'action artistique de la Ville de Paris, Collection Paris et son Patrimoine, Paris, 1995.
  • L'Art des jardins en Europe, Yves-Marie Allain and Janine Christiany, Citadelles & Mazenod, Paris, 2006

Further reading[edit]

  • Marina Longo, "La figura di Tommaso Francini, architetto scenografo alla corte di Francia" Teatro e Storia 24.