To Immerse Oneself in the Fountains and Gardens of the 17th Century
Illustrations by the German engineer, Georg Andreas Böckler, reveal plans for extravagant fountains and geometric gardens, as often as not, never realized.
Each leaf of every plant and every flower in a garden is but one part of an archetype encompassing the entirety of that garden. It’s an archetype which has accompanied humankind since our oldest cosmogonies. Inseparable from their companions, fountains are reproductions of bodies of water and complete any garden as a miniature of the natural world, though made exclusively for our pleasure (much as bonsai are reproductions in miniature of the planet’s landscapes). A book from the 17th century provides detailed illustrations of gardens and fountains that could not but be produced through such a charming illusion. We don’t know if the plans depict places which only ever existed in the mind of the person who drew them, on the delicate leaves of a virtually unknown book.
A most strange book, Architectura Curiosa Nova was published in Nuremberg in 1664. It includes several dozen plans from the work of one, Georg Andreas Böckler, whose existence we can only be certain of based on the drawings he made and by his own documented architectural theories. An engineer, architect, and garden designer, he worked somewhere between art and science. His book deals primarily with his theories of hydrodynamics, with water pumping systems, designs to make a good number of extravagant fountains, and finally, with his geometric plans for the gardens of the nobility and of very wealthy people. Thus, Böckler’s delicate drawings provide a glimpse into what, during his own time, involved the realization and decoration of a garden – with grottos, fountains, and beds of flowers and plants – all designed with a precision between that of the mathematical and the labyrinthine.
Böckler’s fountains are each a strange presence. Their beauty lies, in some measure, in their precise manipulations of water, in the shapes and directions of their nozzles, each of which is drawn in equal precision and with textures depending on the nature of the fountain. Together, they form a veritable catalog of these beings, of magical objects (and they may even appear as a catalog of plants and flowers). The German artist imagined them merely to adorn the gardens of wealthy people. The first section of Architectura Curiosa Nova is dedicated specifically to the internal functioning of the fountains, and the concluding sections include schemes for both the fountains and the gardens.
Böckler’s style emerges with the marked influence of the famous Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio (a lover of columns, country villas, and palaces). But it’s also marked by his career as an engineer, a career which included the construction of forts, water pumps, hydraulic machinery, and which accounts for his love of heraldry. His designs take us back to a distant age, one resplendent with beauty and precision. And though we don’t know if the gardens were ever made, Böckler’s drawings, by themselves, result in an enchanting stroll through his own very particular miniature world.
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