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Gardens, Fountains, and the Science of Waters: An Unpublished Treatise by Giovanni Antonio Nigrone (1609)

Anatole Tchikine, Trinity College Dublin – University of Dublin, Ireland, Fellow 2010–2011

My research at Dumbarton Oaks focused on a two-volume early seventeenth-century manuscript by a Neapolitan fontaniere (hydraulic engineer) Giovanni Antonio Nigrone (active 1585–1609). Although traditionally viewed as a collection of miscellaneous drawings and texts, I demonstrate that it was conceived as a treatise, which offers important insights into fountain design and hydraulics in late Renaissance Italy. My ultimate goal is to provide a reconstruction and critical analysis of Nigrone's work, making it available to mainstream scholarship.

During my term of fellowship, I was able to accomplish most of my original tasks, which included a transcription of Nigrone's manuscript. I also used his drawings to propose a new interpretation of Gianlorenzo Bernini's Fontana della Barcaccia (1627–29) in Rome, challenging this fountain's traditional reading as a political metaphor put forward by Howard Hibbard and Irma Jaffe. My article, Galera, navicella, barcaccia? Bernini's Fountain in Piazza di Spagna Revisited, which deals with this subject, is due to be published in Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in 2011. Another aspect of Nigrone's work, his designs for hydraulic machinery, was the focus of my paper, “L'anima del giardino: Water, Gardens, and Hydraulics in Sixteenth-Century Florence and Naples,” presented at the Dumbarton Oaks Symposium Technology and the Garden in May 2011. This essay will appear as part of the symposium's proceedings.

The most important aspect of my time spent at Dumbarton Oaks, however, was interacting with the community of scholars who work in the area of garden and landscape history. Their support and critical feedback were crucial for the development of my work.