Renovated Fontaine des Innocents June 2024
History,  Monuments

Jean Goujon and La Fontaine des Innocents: Their Stories

The exhibition poster of a woman holding a jug on her shoulder with water streaming out in ribbons caught my attention. The Musée Carnavalet’s poster for La Fontaine des Innocents drew me in with image and the subtitle: “Histoires d’un chef d’œuvre Parisien” (stories of a Parisian masterpiece). I passed the fountain often on my way to Les Halles this past year. It was surrounded by corrugated aluminum and photos. Now, I connected the two: the exhibition and the renovation. The fountain I had taken for granted as always being there suddenly became a hunt for more answers, a journey through French Renaissance history and an expansion of my Parisian knowledge. The exhibition opened new doors for my curiosity for the stories behind the fountain.

What you will see in the exhibit

The exhibition (until August 25, 2024) presents the lifetime of one of Paris’s oldest fountains, its movement at least three times, its morphing with the rhythm of time, and the influence that Goujon’s sculptures had in Parisian art. The exhibition is a quick and detailed study of sculptural art of the human form. It covers the 14th to 19th centuries. Museum labels for adults and children are written in English, English and Spanish.

Musée Carnavalet poster for exhibition La Fontaines des Innocents until August 25, 2024

The morphing of the fountain began in 1786 with a design change when the Holy Innocents Cemetery was removed. The Ourcq Canal constructed in 1809 supplied the Fontaine with drinking water for the Marché des Innocents. The fountain was the heart and soul of the Marché des Innocents: the fruit and vegetable markets.

The original nymphs and vertical bas-reliefs from the original 1548 fountain were removed to the Louvre in 1818. In 1858, Marché des Innocents was taken apart to make way for Victor Baltard’s covered market of metal and glass pavilions. In 1859 the fountain was moved several meters to the east. Before one more move to its present location in the 19th century, it obtained historical monument status in 1862.  

As part of the exhibition, restoration demonstrations using plaster casts are held on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The conservators in the workshop allow visitors to observe the technical art of preserving monuments, e.g., using a micro-vacuum technique removing dust and plaster, applying absorbant gels and the use of low-pressure water vapour. A video presents the restoration techniques on other days. After the exhibit closes Goujon’s works are visible at the Louvre and the Musée Carnavalet. A visit to the exhibition is worth the visit.

Who was Jean Goujon?

Little is known about Goujon’s personal life from his possible birth in Normandy in 1510, to his debated death. His probable end came when he and other Huguenots fled Paris during the French Wars of Religion. Recent evidence shows he died in Bologna, Italy, around 1562 . Or you have the dramatic legend of his being killed on the scaffolding of the fountain during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572.

Paul Delaroche’s 1836 preparatory drawing of Jean Goujon at the Carnavalet Museum Fontaine des Innocents exhibit

Goujon’s career began with his first documented commissions in Rouen, France, between 1540 and 1542. Replicas of his work are visible in the church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois across from the Louvre (metro rue de Rivoli), La Fontaine des Innocents and Louvre masterpieces. The legacy he left leaves no question of his style, technique and imagination.

What sets his sculptures apart

Goujon profoundly influenced many later artists with his sinuous, fluid movement of fabric. Even sculptures standing still seem to move. For the fountain sculptures, the water seems to follow the human form. Some may compare him to Greek sculptures. However, in the 1500’s Greece was controlled by the Ottoman Empire, which allowed no foreign visitors. His work was his imagination.

Echoes of Goujon’s style is evident in various Parisian landmarks shown at the exhibition. For instance, Auguste Préault’s relief sculpture of Ophelia, Jean-Guillaume Moitte’s neo-classical models for the tomb of a fallen general or Augustin Pajou’s bas-relief over doorways at the former Hôtel de Voyer d’Argenson all draw from Goujon’s artistic legacy. More recently, his influence is apparent in Jean-Paul Goude’s photograph 1992 Chanel perfume (Coco) advertisement of Vanessa Paradis. Goude’s inspiration came from “La Source” by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1856), which traces its source back to one of Goujon’s fountain nymphs.

Next up for me is the treasure hunt at the Louvre finding his other works based on the Wikipedia photos. Enjoy!

Additional information on Jean Goujon

Renewal of Passion” National Museum of the Renaissance – Château d’Écouen (worth a day trip visit)

Museum of the Renaissance video of the Renewal of Passion exhibition (During confinement the museum was closed.)

More detailed history and morphing of La Fontaine des Innocents. Some dates may differ from the exhibition’s presentation. It is an interested read nonetheless.