In 1754, Hubert Robert went to Rome in the entourage of his protector, the Comte de Stainville, French Ambassador to the Holy See. In Italy he visited the sites of classical antiquity and the captivating gardens around Rome, including the Villa d’Este in Tivoli. His garden landscapes, often featuring ruins that alluded to the passing of time, were widely admired. The Italy of Robert’s youth continued to inspire his painting long after he returned to Paris in 1765. Based on the drawings he made on site, his picturesque and nostalgic views were favored by aristocratic clients and wealthy collectors.
In The Fountain, Robert invites the viewer onto the terrace of a verdant garden, where visitors refresh themselves in the fountain’s cool mists and explore the overgrown grotto, where the natural elements overwhelm human design. A papal coat of arms, set on the corner of the retaining wall in the right foreground, alludes to bygone glories. The site has not been identified and is likely the artist’s invention.