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The Court of the Seasons
A charming bit of Italian Renaissance - Its quiet simplicity - The alcove Fountains of the Seasons, by Furio Piccirilli - Milton Bancroft's Murals - The forecourt, with Evelyn Longman's Fountain of Ceres - Inscriptions.
In The Court of the Seasons, the architect, Henry Bacon of New York, has shown us a charming mood of the Italian Renaissance. (p. 79, 80.) This court, neither too splendid to be comfortable nor too ornate to be restful, is full of a quiet intimacy. Nature's calm is here. It is a little court, and friendly. Its walls are near and sheltering. People like to sit here in the shelter of the close thickets around the still pool in the center. I notice, too, that persons hastening across the grounds come this way, and that they unconsciously slacken pace as they walk through the court.
This is the only one of the three central courts in which everything is in harmony. There is nothing obtrusive about it. The effect is that of a perfect whole, simple, complete. The round pool, smooth, level with the ground, unadorned, gives its note. The colors are warm, the massive pillars softly smooth. The trees press close to the walls, the shrubbery is dense. Birds make happy sounds among the branches. Water falls from the fountains in the alcoves, not with a roar, but with something more than a woodland murmur. These fountains touch one of the purest notes in nature. In cool, high, bare-walled alcoves the water falls in sheets from terrace to terrace, at last into a dark pool below. The sound is steady, gently reinforced by echo from the clean walls behind, and pervasive. It is a very perfect imitation of the sound of mountain waters.
Nothing in this court takes effort. The pictures and the sculpture of the alcoves and the half-dome tell their own story. Here is no elusive mysticism, no obscure symbolism to be dug out with the help of guidebooks, like a hard lesson. The treasures of the Seasons are on the surface, glowing in the face of all.
The Seasons are sheltered in the four alcoves, distinguished from each other only by the fountain groups of Furio Piccirilli and the murals by H. Milton Bancroft. Neither pictures nor statues need much explanation. The first alcove to the left of the half-dome is that of Spring. In the sculptured group of the fountain, flowers bloom and love awakens. It is a fresh and graceful composition. The murals are on the faces of the corridor arches. No one can mistake their meaning. Springtime shows her first blossoms, and the happy shepherd pipes a seasonal air to his flock, now battening on new grass. In the companion picture, Seedtime, are symbols of the spring planting.
Next comes Summer, the time of Fruition. (p. 94.) Above the fountain the mother gives the new-born child to its happy father, and the servant brings the first fruits of the harvest. This is less likable than the other groups. The posture of the mother is not a happy one. The two murals picture Summer and Fruition. Bancroft has taken athletic games as the symbol of the season. Summer is crowning the victor in aquatic sports. Conventional symbols of fruits and flowers represent Fruition.
In the group of Autumn, Providence is the central figure, directing the Harvest. She is bringing in the juice of the grape. The season is significantly represented in the full modeling of the figures and the maturity of the adults. The mural of Autumn, in the rich colors of the dying year, suggests by its symbols of wine and music, the harvest festival. Opposite, is pictured the Harvest, with the garnered crops.
Last of all is Winter, with the bare desolation of the wintry world in the melancholy fountain group. Then Nature rests in the season of conception, while a man sows, his companion having prepared the ground. In his mural of Winter, Bancroft pictures the snowy days, the fuel piled against the cold, the chase of the deer, the spinning in the long evenings. The companion piece represents the festival side of the season, when men have time to play. The Seasons are complete.
On the walls of the half-dome are two formal paintings by Bancroft, conventional but charming in their allegory. These are Bancroft's best murals. In the first, Time crowns Art, while her handmaids, Painting, Pottery, Weaving, Glass-making, Metal-working and Jewel-making, stand in attendance. In the other, Man is taught the laws of Love, Life, and Death, Earth, Fire, and Water.
On the summit of the half-dome is a group representing the Harvest, and before it, on two splendid columns, are Rain, a woman bearing the cup of the waters, and Sunshine, another with a palm branch. All three are by Albert Jaegers. At the other extremity of the court each of the two pylons is surmounted by a bull, wreathed in garlands, and led by man and maiden to the sacrifice. These groups, each called the Feast of the Sacrifice, are also by Albert Jaegers. (p. 79.) The spandrels on the arches and the female figures on the cornices are by his brother, August Jaegers.
The abundance of the Seasons is symbolized in the fruit-bearing figures that form the pilasters of the cornices of the arches, and by the fat ears of corn depending from the Ionic capitals of the columns. These types of fruitfulness have a further justification in the neighborhood of the Palaces of Agriculture and Food Products, which border the court on the north.
The eastern and western arches are exquisite in their simple proportion, and the delicate charm of the fresco of their vaulted passages. The quality of this interior decoration is enhanced by the beauty of the staff work, which throughout this court is the most successful found in the Exposition. Here this plaster is soft, rich and warm, and looks more real and permanent than elsewhere.
I prefer to consider the northern approach between the two palaces as not a part of this court. The pleasant intimacy of the court would have been enhanced if it had been cut off from this approach by an arch. Half way down the forecourt is the formal fountain of Ceres by Evelyn Beatrice Longman, which must cheer the hearts of those who would have all art draped.
Inscriptions in Court of Seasons
(a) On arch at east side:
So Forth Issew'd the Seasons of(b) On arch at west side:
For Lasting Happiness We Turn