There are dozens of noteworthy fountains in Paris, so it is not easy for one to stand out from the rest. However, Fontaine des Innocents certainly does. Maybe it is the fact that it is the city's oldest monumental fountain that makes it more intriguing, or perhaps it is that it is simply a fantastic example of design from the French Renaissance.
This significant piece can be found in the 1st arrondissement at Place Joachim-du-Bellay. It was constructed from 1547 to 1550, and was originally called Fountain of the Nymphs.
The royal entry of King Henry II inspired the commission of this larger outdoor water fountain. His official entry was to take place in 1549, so several artists were commissioned to design elaborate monuments along his route. It was placed at the site of a previous fountain that once stood at the wall of Saints Innocent Cemetery. Its purpose was to be a grand reviewing stand reserved for local notables. A stairway was included in the design so officials could make their way to the upper level to stand there to wait to greet the king.
After the procession passed, it became a simple neighborhood fountain, ornamented with lion heads and fed trickling water. Eventually, the upper floor was transformed into a residence.
In 1787, the cemeteries were moved outside city walls and this particular space was turned into a market square. The fountain was scheduled to be destroyed, but Quatremere de Quincy, an architectural theorist, petitioned against it. It was decided that it would be moved into the market to be put on display. It was decorated with four basins and four lions and raised on a stone pedestal.
In 1858, it was moved to its current location in the heart of the square. Six stacked basins pouring water were added to each façade at this time.
The fountains architect was Pierre Lescot. He is noted for introducing French Renaissance architecture to the city. The design was inspired by a nymphaeum. In Ancient Rome these monuments were consecrated the nymphs and were typically decorated with intricately detailed statuary of tritons, nymphs, and other water deities.
Jean Goujon was the sculpture of the fountain. The triton and nymph on one of the panels strongly resembles a Roman sarcophagi found in Grottaferrata. Also, the triton's hair resembles the statue of The River Tiber. So, as you look at Fontaine des Innocents you are essentially looking at influences from many other significant pieces.