Fountain of the Four Rivers
Public Art : Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei
Sculptor/design : Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Date : Erected 1651
Description : The baroque fountain is
sculpted in travertine and marble and features the great red Oriental granite obelisk brought to Rome by
Emperor Caracalla (originally built for the Roman Serapeum in AD 81) and which had been recovered from the Circus
of Romulus. To be sure Pope Innocent X was forever remembered, atop the obelisk is a bronze dove and
olive-branch, the emblem of the Pamphili family (the Pope's family) and symbolic of the peaceful work of the
Church. The four marble sculpted "River Gods" represent the great rivers from different continents. The river
god Ganges holds an oar representing the river's easy navigation, the Niles river god has a cloth draped over
his head because at the time no one knew the location of the Nile's water source, the Danube river god is touching
the Papal coat of arms as it is the closest of the four rivers to Rome and the Río de la Plata is sitting on a
pile of coins, a symbol of the America's potential riches.The circular tank is adorned by no more than 7
Location : Centre fountain (in front of the church of
Sant'Agnese in Agone) in Piazza Navona, Rome, Italy.
Unveiled : The Fountain of The Four Rivers was
unveiled on 12th of June, 1651. Hidden for much of the time behind scaffolding and curtains, the public were
treated to a fanfare at the unveiling. Pope Innocent X, who paid for the festival, spared no expense. A woman with
wings attached to her back was paraded around the streets on a carriage blowing a trumpet and urging all to follow
her to Piazza Navona. When the fountana was finally unveiled it was met with enrapture!
History of the Fountain of the Four Rivers :
Gian Lorenzo Bernini was eventually commissioned by Pope Innocent X to build the
Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Fiumi) in Piazza Navona. The impressive fountain was
built on the order of the Pope, to commemorate the redirection of water from the Acqua Vergine
(one of Rome's principal water supplies) to the square in front of his family palace, the Palazzo
Construction of the fountain began between 1647-51 and represents four rivers from different continents, the Danube
(Europe), Nile (Africa), Ganges (Asia) and Rio della Plata (Americas). Bernini sort the help of several
sculptors to complete the River Gods ; the Ganges (by Claude Poussin), Nile (by Giacomo Antonio Fancelli), Danube
(by Antonio Raggi il Lombardo) and Rio della Plata (by Francesco Baratta).
Pope Innocent X originally requested that the
travertine and marble fountain be constructed by well known architect Francesco Borromini (Bernini's arch
rival) but it was eventually handed to Bernini, after some clever scheming. Bernini was not at all liked by Pope
Innocent X, due mainly to Bernini's close association with his predecessor Pope Urbanus VIII and his
failure with the St Peter's Belltowers. Good friend, Prince Niccolo Ludovisi, suggested to Bernini that
he create a model for the intended fountain and have it strategically placed in the Pamphili Palace where
the Pope was sure to see it. The plot worked. On seeing the model, the Pope simply had to have it and despite his
dislike for the artist gave the job to Bernini. It doesn't finish there.
: As a bit of spiteful revenge for losing commissions to the Pope preferred architect Francesco
Borromini, it is rumored that Bernini deliberately made the Río de la Plata River God appear to be
raising its arms up as if preparing to protect himself from the "unstable" facade of the Church of Sant' Agnese
(facing the fountain), which Borromini built. To add the final pinch of insult, the statue representing the
Nile, is covering his head as if to avoid seeing the sight. This is long been disputed as Borromini didn't start
work on the church until long after the fountain was erected. It still makes a great story for the local tour
Trivia : Pope Innocent X raised the taxes on bread to
pay for the Four Rivers fountain despite the terrible famine of 1646-1648 . The masses were not happy,
they cried fowl declaring ; "Noi volemo altro che Guglie e Fontane. Pane volemo: pane, pane, pane!"
Loosely translated into ; "We don't need spires and fountains. Bread we want: bread, bread, bread".
During the liberation of Italy the Piazza was used as a camp for allied soldiers who removed the
fingers from the statues and took them home as souvenirs.
Works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini :
Fountain of the Moor