Rome – Centro Historico – Bernini statues and fountains

There are so many statues and fountains that I have had to write two posts on them. In this one I thought it would be interesting to look at the work of master sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini and those associated with him. Please see the following post for all the others. Neither post is intended as a guide, they’re just my experiences, so please click on the links if you want more information.

City map here. Map of the neigbourhoods in the Centro Storico here.

Bernini was a genius who excelled in several areas of art, from sculpture to architecture to urban planning. For much of the seventeenth century he was the preferred artist of the papal court so his work can be found all over the city. He was a leading exponent of the Baroque style of architecture which employs exuberant embellishment, grandeur and surprise to try to achieve a sense of awe in the onlooker.

One of his masterpieces is Piazza Navona which he planned and created some of the sculptures for.

Of the three fountains the central one, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers), is considered to be a Bernini masterpiece.

The figures on the fountain represent the the major rivers in the four discovered continents that had been discovered at the time: the Ganges, the Nile, the Danube and the Plate.

Legend has it that the fountain was created in direct competition with his great rival Francesco Borromini who designed the façade of the church Sant’ Agnese which stands next to the fountain (see the first photo). The story says that the figure of the Danube is covering his eyes to represent Bernini’s disdain for his rival’s work. Although the rivalry was very real, this particular tale is untrue because the church was not built until several years later.

At the southern end of the square is the Fontana del Moro, sculpted by Giacomo della Porta in 1575. Nearly 100 hundred years later in 1673 Bernini added a statue of a Moor wrestling with a dolphin to the centre.

At the northern end is the Fontana di Nettuno, also created by Giacomo della Porta in 1574. The central statue of Neptune, by Antonio Della Bitta, was added in 1878 to create balance with La Fontana del Moro. Bitta’s sense of humour is very apparent in the figures.

Another favourite of mine is the Obelisco della Minerva, the Elephant and Obelisk, in Piazza della Minerva. The statue incorporates an Egyptian obelisk that was found during excavation of foundations for the Basilica St Maria Sopra Minerva, also in the square.

Again legend has it that Bernini had a dispute over the construction of a base for the staute with a religious official. In revenge he had the tail of the elephant positioned a little to one side so that the animal’s butthole was the first thing the person saw when they looked out of the window of their house.

The Fontana del Tritone in Piazza Barberini is another magnificent work of art. Dating from 1642 it shows the sea god Triton blowing through a shell.

Many of Bernini’s finest works are to be found in the Galleria Borghese, the Borghese Gallery and Museum in the Villa Borghese park.

Don’t make my mistake of showing up without a ticket, you have to buy them in advance. Only 360 visitors are admitted every two hours (at 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm and 5pm). You can reserve at galleriaborghese.it and collect your tickets in person at least 30 minutes before your scheduled admission time.

So one for next time! Watch this space.

There are also some other fountains…

Leave a Reply