When I passed three weeks ago the stone frame was blank, installed by a long ago stone mason for an inscription that was never made. The mosaic which has occupied this tempting vacant space is a subdued mix of tones chosen to blend with the surrounding stone. Illegal maybe but street art at its most subtle.
The mosaic is clearly the work of Space Invader, an anonymous Paris street artist whose ‘invasions’ have now spread to cities around the world. The little building on the angle of rue Mouffetard and rue du Pot-de-Fer is the Fontaine du Pot-de-Fer installed in 1621 and reconstructed in its present form in 1671 as a public water supply for the parish of St Medard.
The fountain’s single tap (more clearly visible in this 1857 photo by Eugène Atget) was supplied by a branch from the Medici aqueduct, built on the order of Mairie de Medicis to bring water from a spring at Rungis to the capital. Clean water for the common people wasn’t the queen’s primary concern. Royal palaces and gardens had first call on the water supply, followed by the many convents and monasteries in what were then the southern suburbs of Paris. One tap for the parish wasn’t much but must have been a welcome public asset when the alternative was fetching water from the river Bièvre.
The Fontaine has survived remarkably unchanged as the city’s water supply system has grown, changed and developed. The tap still works today though the source of water is no longer the original spring. Is the new addition an act of vandalism or an artistic tribute to a local landmark? I’ll leave you to decide.