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The Fountain of the Four Rivers

The Fountain is the highlight of any visit to Piazza Navona
 
Silvia Monti / Storyteller

The Fountain is the highlight of any visit to Piazza Navona

The fountain of the Four Rivers by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini is one of the most spectacular fountains in the world.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

History

In order to celebrate the Jubilee of the year 1650 and to celebrate the papal family, Pope Innocent X Pamphjli decided to adorn the wonderful Piazza Navona, which sits on the footprint of the first century AD Stadium of Domitian, where the family's palace was located.

For this reason, the Pope commissioned the great sculptor Bernini to create a fantastic fountain to decorate the center of the square and also to commemorate the redirection of the water from the Acqua Vergine acqueduct right in front of the Palazzo Pamphili.

Initially, Bernini was not invited by Innocent X to submit a project because he was associated with his predecessor and with the problems connected with the construction of St Peter's bell towers. Bernini found a way to have a model of his project shown to the Pope who immediately changed his mind and assigned the work to him.

Following Bernini's success in Rome, where he worked for the city's most powerful families and the popes, his fame spread across the whole of Europe and his royal patrons included King Charles I of England and King Louis XIV of France.

Description

The base of the fountain is a large basin from the center of which travertine rocks rise to support four river gods. Above them is a roman obelisk surmounted with the Pamphili family emblem of a dove with an olive twig. The male allegorical figures represent the four major rivers of the four known world at that time: the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia and the Rio de la Plata representing the Americas. The marble giants are grouped around the center of the basin made by carved grottoes decorated with flowers and exotic plants and animals: a horse, a sea monster, a serpent, a dolphin, a crocodile, a lion, and a dragon. The personifications of the four rivers were realized by the collaborators of the maestro: the Danube by Antonio Raggi, the Ganges by Nicolas Poussin, the Rio della Plata by Francesco Baratta and the Nile by Antonio Fancelli.

The Obelisk

Each river god has in his hand an object or is positioned in a specific way so that we can identify all of them. The Ganges carries a long oar, representing the river's navigability. The Nile's head is draped with a loose piece of cloth, meaning that no one at that time knew exactly where the Nile's source was. The Danube touches the Papal coat of arms, since it is the large river closest to Rome. And the Río de la Plata is sitting on a pile of coins, a symbol of the riches America could offer to Europe (the word plata means "silver" in Spanish). A legend, common with tour-guides, is that Bernini positioned the cowering Rio de la Plata River as if the sculpture was fearing the facade of the church of Sant'Agnese by his rival Borromini could crumble against him. In fact, the fountain was completed several years before Borromini began work on the church.

Bernini and the Baroque

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was one of the most innovative architects and sculptors of the Baroque period. Born in Naples in 1598, his long and successful artistic career lasted until his death in 1680. Following his early success in Rome, where he worked for the city's most powerful families and the popes, his fame spread across the whole of Europe. His royal patrons included King Charles I of England and King Louis XIV of France. Sculptor, architect and painter, Bernini created here awesome monuments combining sculpture and architecture. His works also appear in the Borghese gallery, Saint Peter's Square in Vatican City State and in numerous other locations throughout Rome.

About the Author


Silvia Monti is an archeologist, a tour guide and a story teller, born and raised in Rome. She began showing her family and friends around Rome to share its rich past and history when she discovered her passion for sharing the hidden stories- from the lowest cobblestone up to the highest dome.

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