Serving as wine-coolers from which servants could retrieve bottles, fountains such as this impressive example enjoyed lasting popularity from the late 17th Century and throughout the 18th Century. Placed in the salon or salle à manger, as Philippe Marnet, Paris agent to the Court of Parma, noted in 1768, the importance of these rooms was such that one tries to provide the richest decorations possible. Among the earliest documented fountains in gilt-lead was that supplied by Jean-Baptiste Tubi after designs by Charles Lebrun in 1672 for the théatre d'eau at Versailles. In 1750 the théatre d'eau was destroyed and the sculptures were dispersed. Tubi's fountain is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (F. Souchal, French Sculptors of the 17th and 18th Centuries, London, 1987, p. 337, fig. 28).
In 1748, corner fountains were added to the salle à manger of the chàteau de Villette, and these have related 'grotto' ornament of watery stalactites and bearded gilt-lead masks. These corner fountains are illustrated in J. Whitehead, The French Interior in the Eighteenth Century, London, 1993, p. 84. Shortly after, the fermier général Normand d'Etioles installed related fountains in the salle à manger, and these were subsequently acquired with the hôtel by Madame de Pompadour. These latter fountains were sold in the Baron Double sale in Paris, 30 May -1 June 1881, lots 332-4. Whitehead (op.cit) also illustrates a Regence rouge royale marble fountain of similar character to the present example, with gilt-lead dolphins flanking a mask (p. 55).
That fountains executed in gilt-lead remained fashionable throughout the 18th century is confirmed by the fact that in 1784 the sculpteur Roland and the bronzier Thomire delivered a further fountain in gilt-lead to the antichambre des petits appartements royaux at the château de Fontainebleau.