Fountain of the Moor

Fountain of the Moor, Rome, Italy

Public Art : Fountain of the Moor (Fontana del Moro)

Sculptor/Designer : Giacomo della Porta (c. 1533 - 1602) and Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)

Date : 1576 & 1654

Description : Baroque marble fountain featuring a centre travertine statue of a Triton (the Moor) struggling with a dolphin. There are four Carrara Tritons blowing shells at the four curved sides of the basin. Jets of water spray out from each of the Triton's mouth.

Location : Southern end of Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy.

History of the Fountain of the Moor: The original tank by Giacomo della Porta was placed in Piazza Navona in 1576 and was commissioned by Pope Gregory XIII. Taddeo Landini, Simone Moschino, Silla Longhi, and Egidio della Riviera (Berini's students) carved the four Tritons and the four masks surrounding the basin. The basin was made from a special antique rose marble known as Portasanta. It was often referred to as holy door marble because it was used in St Peter's for door jambs (it was later replaced with white marble). However the centre piece was designed by Bernini in 1654 at the request of Olimpia Maidalchini, the sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X, who didn't like what she saw from her palace window overlooking the rather neglected fountain. The Pope originally offered a small amount of funding for the restoration and subsequencely the job was given to one of Bernini's "cutters", Angelo Vannelli, who sculpted three dolphins holding up a shell from which water squirted from (referred to as the "snail"). Needless to say Olympia was not amused. Looking embarrassing too small and dwarfed in the Piazza, the "snail" was removed soon after and stored in St Peter's. Pope Innocent X later gave the carving to Oylmpia who is believed to have placed it in her garden. Today it can be found in Villa Pamphili, if you want to have a look.

So, Bernini went back to the drawing board or should I say studio, and created a terrocotta presentation model (1653) of the centre piece sculpture, to show the Pope. The 32 inch (80.5cm) clay model was of a Triton struggling with a fish atop a large shell. Unfortunately the Pope was not impressed with the Triton, nor the shell, nor the fish, he wanted something with "greater nobility".

The new statue of a Triton holding a dolphin (1654) was approved by the Pope and Bernini gave the job of sculpting the creation to Giovanni Antonio Mari. Before long it became obvious that the statue was going to be far too big for the basin. The only solution was to enlarge the fountain. Pope Innocents X agreed (more money was raised) and the steps and balustrade were removed and a wider pool added. By 1655 the fountain was complete.

During restorations in 1874 the four tritons and four marble masks sculptures from the fountain were removed and then replaced with copies made by unknown sculptor Luigi Amici. The original carvings, which were considered to be in such a bad state, were stored by the Municipality of Rome for over thirty years before a bright spark, in 1909,  came up with the idea of using them for the Fountain of the Masks (Fontana dei Mascheroni) in the Villa Borghese, the largest public park in Rome. The sculptures were restored with cement.

History of Piazza Navona : The Piazza Navona in Rome was once the location of the Stadium of Domitian which had held athletic competitions since AD 85. The Piazza still maintains the long elongated shape of the stadium. At one stage the piazza was used as a fruit and vegetable market and between 1652-1866 the piazza was flooded each Saturday during the month of August to create an artificial lake.

Trivia : The Salander-O'Reilly Galleries in New York, bid for Bernini's 1653 presentation model of the "Triton holding a Dolphin" in July 2002 (from Sotheby's of London) and won the auction for a cool 3.2 million dollars. In 2003 the Kimbell Art Museum bought the sculpture from the New York dealers for an undisclosed sum. The model was created from terrocotta and is believed to be one of Berlini's finest surviving terracotta works.

The fountain was given the nickname "Fountain of the Moor" because of the facial feature of the main character the Triton resembles a Moor (Il Moro).

During the liberation of Italy the Piazza was used as a camp for allied soldiers who stole the fingers from the statues and took them home as souvenirs.

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