The Monreale Fountain in the Quadrangle

In the center of the Quadrangle at Cranbrook School is a replica of a fountain which stands in the southwestern corner of the cloister of Duomo Monreale in Palermo, Sicily. Completed in 1182, the cathedral unites Arabic, Byzantine, and Norman architectural and cultural influences and is famed for its mosaics.

The inspiration for the fountain’s long-treasured presence on the Cranbrook campus dates back to 1922, when Henry Scripps Booth first saw the original in the cathedral cloister. This was a site that Henry seems to have particularly wanted to see while on a ten-month architectural study tour of Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Great Britain, and France, with his friend, J. Robert F. Swanson.

View of the Duomo Monreale, December 1922. Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

Writing to his father, Cranbrook founder George G. Booth, on December 26, 1922, he describes the cathedral thus:

“Mosaic everywhere — luminous gold, and dull colors — with intricate geometric patterns in abundance and fine but rather arcaic [sic] representations of Biblical stories roofed over with a richly decorated trussed ceiling. The cloister in the cathedral’s shade is that delightful one with such delicate columns in pairs, decorated by mosaics, that is illustrated so frequently.”

View of the Duomo Monreale, December 1922. Henry Scripps Booth, photographer. Cranbrook Archives.

Henry laments that there isn’t time enough to study the monuments as closely as he would like, to measure them and draw them up, for if they did, they would end up knowing only one thing well but miss out on so many others. His letter includes this sketch of the fountain:

Letter from Henry Scripps Booth to George Gough Booth, December 24-26, 1922. Cranbrook Archives.

Several years later, George is in Naples, Italy, at one of his favored workshops, the Chiurazzi Foundry. On March 2, 1927, George wrote to Henry to tell him of numerous purchases he made at the foundry, all to be gifts to the new Cranbrook School for Boys. While the specific uses of the items might be determined later, as was characteristic of George he had a tentative plan for all of them. The most important was the replica of the Monreale fountain. Here, we can see George’s sketch of the replica fountain, showing its dimensions:

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Discovering Turtle Fountain

The collections at Cranbrook Archives are used by a wide population of researchers and have a broad reach academically and internationally. The collections are also used internally for diverse purposes, including historic preservation, education, program development, and fact-checking. A recent research request related to the original installation of Turtle Fountain on the circular terrace at Cranbrook House.

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Turtle Fountain, 1925. K. Hance, photographer. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

In the late winter of 1924, George and Ellen Booth took a trip to Europe. In a letter dated February 15, 1924, to Cecil Billington, George explains,

“We stopped in Rome to see if by chance I could find a fountain for the new circular terrace basin – and I did – at first it seemed quite out of reach, but some favorable circumstances helped a lot…”

He goes on to discuss the agreements for packaging and shipping the fountain, which is no less than 10 tons of Verona marble. Similar information is found in a letter from George to Henry Scripps Booth, which also describes their experience of staying in Paris and Rome:

Letter from George G. Booth to Henry S. Booth, February 15, 1924. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

While Florence and Carol [Farr Booth] went to see the sights and do a little shopping, George writes,

“I at once went to the Galerie Sangiorgi where I bought the last fountain – and at first was disappointed as I had a mind picture which could not be realized there. There was one fountain which they had when I was there last – a replica of one in Rome often regarded as the best if not, as some say, “the most beautiful”…”

The letter is very informative about the materials from which the fountain is made, what they weigh, and how he envisions it on the circular terrace, even including a small drawing of the base of the fountain (top of page 2).

Invoice, Galleria Sangiorgi, February 25, 1924. Copyright Cranbrook Archives.

The fountain was cast by Chiurazzi Foundry in Naples, whose works were often sold by the Galerie Sangiorgi. The design of the fountain was inspired by the Fontana delle Tartarughe, which stands in the Piazza Mattei in Rome. The original was designed by Giacomo della Porta and Taddeo Landini in 1581, which featured dolphins instead of turtles. During restoration in 1658, the dolphins were removed due to their weight and replaced by bronze turtles, which were sculpted by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. Cranbrook’s Turtle Fountain was restored in September 1980 through the Gardens Auxiliary. Visit the fountain this spring on your own or on a tour with Cranbrook House and Gardens Auxiliary.

– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist

 

 

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