Fontaine des Innocents is the oldest monumental fountain in Paris, done in the early French Renaissance style.
The fountain, located next to the Forum des Halles shopping center, was build 1547-1549 by French sculptor Jean Goujon, from the plans by architect Pierre Lescot.
Today, it is the oldest still remaining monumental fountain in Paris (a city known, in fact, for its monumental fountains).
When it was completed, the fountain was part of the new constructions done to prepare the city for King Henry II’s upcoming visit to Paris in 1549.
In fact, local and international artists and architects were commissioned to make monuments suitable for the King’s route throughout Paris…
…from the triumphal arc at Port Saint-Denis all the way to Palais de la Cité.
PHOTO: A closeup of the monumental fountain, originally “Fontaine des Nymphes“. The view is from Rue Berger, a short walk to the nearby Forum des Halles shopping center.
When completed, the fountain was located adjacent to the église des Saints-Innocents graveyard.
Location for the magnificent fountain was carefully chosen within Rue Saint Denis, on King Henry II’s ceremonial route through Paris.
The fountain’s staircase was constructed to have two functions:
- as the fountain’s staircase, and
- as an observation platform (for local nobility) for the day of King Henry’s procession on rue Saint Denis.
When the église des Saints-Innocents graveyard was moved in 1787 (outside of the city walls), the place became “Marché des Innocents” marketplace…with the fountain earmarked for future demolition.
However, thanks to efforts by a group led by Quatremere de Quincy, the monumental fountain was saved from being destroyed…
..and instead, it was restored to its original condition, with Augustin Pajou adding a fourth facade to the monument (to the former église des Saints-Innocents side).
Pierre Lescot, the fountain’s architect, was one of the leading French Renaissance architects.
He was so popular, in fact, that King Francis I first made him the court architect, then commissioned Lescot to rebuild Palais du Louvre.
Fontaine des Innocents derives inspiration from ancient Roman and classical Greek nymphaeum buildings…
…which typically featured statues of nymphs, triton characters, and other deities.
The fountain also carries many similar features to what the Italian Renaissance artists did (during the same period) to the nearby Château de Fontainebleau.