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R & S Garrard

The Alhambra table fountain 1851-53

Silver, parcel gilt, enamel | 112.0 x 82.0 x 82.0 cm; 2083.0 oz (Weight) (whole object) | RCIN 1569

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A silver, parcel gilt and enamel table fountain in the form of a domed Moorish temple sheltering a fountain, with three Arab horses led by two Moors; on a rockwork hummock covered in vegetation and small palm trees, and with figures of dogs, birds and small lizards. The cistern of the fountain is contained in the dome of the temple, and the water drains into a series of pools, in the base. The water flow, which works purely by pressure, is regulated by turning the nozzle of the fountain.

This table fountain was commissioned by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1851 and shown at the 1853 Dublin exhibition and again in 1855 in Paris, to universal praise. The idea for the piece appears to have come jointly from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in January 1851, as the Queen records her first meeting with Edmund Cotterill in her Journal at that date. The architectural structure of the centrepiece, modelled by Edward Lorenzo Percy, is inspired by the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain with its distinctive 'honeycomb' plasterwork. The horses were modelled by Cotterill from three of Queen Victoria's Arabs, which had been sent to her as gifts in the 1840s. The exotic plants around the base were closely modelled by William Spencer on botanical specimens at Kew Gardens.

The centrepiece was used throughout the reign of Queen Victoria, and may be seen on the table in a watercolour of the dinner held to celebrate her Golden Jubilee in June 1887. According to 'one of Her Majesty's servants' who publised a book about life at Windsor Castle in 1897, the fountain was filled with eau-de-cologne rather than water.

Text adapted from Victoria & Albert: Art & Love.