THE SEMIPUBLIC FOUNTAINS
grotesque face, from the
fountain in piazza Campitelli
A few among the main fountains supplied by the Aqua Felix were semipublic.
This special deal between a private individual (usually belonging to
a noble and/or rich family) and the public administration has already been
described in part II page 1
about the small fountains: the owner of an estate could build a fountain
for public use, in a square next to his property, being granted free water,
funds and sometimes marble or stone, upon the promise of taking care of its
regular maintainance and repairs (when needed). The owner's benefit in doing this
was the opportunity of diverting into his house or private grounds a certain
amount of the available water for his personal use,
and especially to increase the value of his property thanks to the presence
of running water.
As a last entry for this page, also the fountain of piazza dell'Ara Coeli has been included,
not because semipublic, but because very close to the one in piazza Campitelli,
and because both of them are related to the Muti family.
THE FOUR FOUNTAINS
Via Pia, i.e. the street followed by the Aqua Felix, running over the
top of the Quirinal hill, was crossed by another important street, via Felice (see map
in page 6). This crossing is now famous because three of Rome's obelisks
can be seen in the distance from this spot, in three different directions.
By the time of Sixtus V, two of the spires had not yet been moved to their
present location, but the crossing was important all the same,
as via Pia and via Felice were the only main roads that reached this
almost desertic part of Rome.
The work took some time (1588-93), and the shape of the fountains had to fit the
features of the four buildings from whose corner they hung. Diana's fountain
was finished by a distinguished architect, Pietro da Cortona, who took over the original
author. This may explain why the final result is not symmetrical.
Muzio Mattei, for whom the Fountain of the Tortoises - without
tortoises yet - had been built in front of his family palace (see
), was also the owner of another property
next to the crossing, and agreements were made to have a public source of water
built on this spot. The author of the project, who regretfully remained
unkown, had the brilliant idea of setting one fountain in each corner,
not to cause any hindrance to the rather narrow roadway of this busy crossing.
Three of them belonged to the Mattei family, while the fourth one was looked after by a different local owner, Giacomo Gridenzoni.
The fountains seem to match in couples,
either by their theme or by their shape.
In fact, two of them feature female goddesses of ancient Rome's mythology,
namely Juno (1, see map below) and Diana (4), while
the other two bearded male figures are allegories of two rivers,
namely the Tiber (2) and the Arno (in Florence, 3).
Diana, the only subject without a front;
among its details are the insignia of Sixtus V
All four figures are reclining, and in front of each of them the water pours into
a small semicircular basin. But while behind the Tiber and Juno stands a
tall front with a somewhat elaborate background,
the Arno has a much lower one, with a simple relief featuring a scanty river
vegetation, and Diana has none.
Due to their arrangement, the fountains that a passer-by faces coming from
the former via Felice (now via delle Quattro Fontane)
are either the two rivers (2·3) or the two goddesses (1·4), i.e. matching
themes but with different backgrounds.
the crossing with its modern street names
coat of arms of Sixtus V
Instead walking along the former via Pia (now via del Quirinale and via XX Settembre)
one sees a combination of a river and a goddess, either with elaborate fronts
(Tiber-Juno, 2·1) or with simple ones (Arno-Diana, 3·4).
Some details are worthy of being noticed. Below a willow tree that tops
Juno's front is a peacock, the goddess' favourite bird, while
on one side of the Tiber's figure, the she-wolf of Rome comes out from a cave.
Instead Diana features some minor details, representing the
insignia of pope Sixtus V: a star and a lion's head carved on the basin, and three small hills
on which the goddess rests her elbow.
A further lion also peeps from behind the
the she-wolf of Rome
The corner where the Tiber fountain stands belongs to
a famous church by Borromini, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane
(also mentioned in The 22 Rioni
Rione I, Monti
whose making though started over half a century after the four fountains
had been finished.
THE FOUNTAIN OF PIAZZA CAMPITELLI
the fountain of piazza Campitelli; on the right is Palazzo Capizucchi
The list of fountains agreed for the Aqua Felix mentioned one for the
corner of the Tor de' Specchi monastery, facing the northern side of
the Capitolium hill. It was built only a few metres
(or yards) off the scheduled spot, in a narrow square named after the
district, piazza Campitelli, right in front of the church of Santa
Maria in Campitelli. The expenses were partly payed by four families,
owners of palaces that stand in the same square, or next to it, namely
the Capizucchi, the Ricca, the Albertoni and the Muti.
Being a work by della Porta, its shape followed the architect's usual scheme:
a round basin, a central baluster, a larger basin below, and a stand.
In this case the lower basin is octagonal, with alternate straight and concave
sides, decorated with two grotesque faces (one of them has donkey ears, see
the opening picture of this page), and the coats of arms of the four families
whose funds the fountain had been built with.
Its large base, octagonal as well, has a small crease that runs all around
the fountain as a drain, collecting the water that trickles from the lower basin
and is also spouted by the grotesque faces.
(from the left) coats of arms of the Muti, Capizucchi, Ricca
and Albertoni, on the four concave sides of the basin
In 1675 the church of Santa Maria in Campitelli was enlarged; since the
religious functions were often disturbed by the noise made by the many people
who drew water from the fountain, the latter was moved to one side of the
building, where it now stands.
THE FOUNTAIN OF PIAZZA DELL'ARACOELI
Piazza dell'Aracoeli is a small square below the northern side of the Capitolium,
named after the medieval church atop the same hill.
In 1589, despite the spot was already supplied by plenty of Aqua Felix water
(see the Capitolium fountains, page 8
and the one in piazza Campitelli, previously described), della Porta was given
the commission of building there a further fountain, in front of Palazzo Muti.
the pale lines refer to the
original steps, later removed
This one was not
semipublic, as suggested by the lack of the Muti family's coat of arms among its
decorations, and because the same family had already given a contribution
for the making of the aforesaid fountain of piazza Campitelli.
once two steps surrounded the fountain
the top element
Instead, this may have been considered as a
replacement for the one in piazza Altieri, not far from this spot, that
had never been built due to the small size
of the square, despite having been included both in the project of
the Salone water and in that of the Aqua Felix.
Della Porta remained faithful to his scheme, as usual
adding some interesting details to his composition.
The upper basin supports
the three hills insignia, surrounded by four small putti holding
tiny amphors that pour water, likely inspired by those of the old fountain in St.Peter's square
(see page 1
), which in those days was still extant.
The outer side of the basin is decorated with four water-spouting faces.
The stout marble baluster rests on a square block
carved with heads and festoons.
The lower basin is oval, vaguely resembling a ship, and so is the base on
which it rests; it has four faces, similar to the afore-mentioned ones.
By that time the coat of arms of the pope's family was added to the fountain's baluster.
Originally, below the fountain were also two steps in the same
elongated shape, each of which surrounded by a narrow basin that collected the water
trickling from the larger one; in the 19th century they were removed, and replaced by
a more standard ground basin or pool with a circular shape.
coat of arms of Alexander VII
Some twenty years after the making of the fountain, Alexander VII
thought of moving it from piazza dell'Aracoeli to piazza Santi Apostoli,
in order to give the latter square the long-awaited source of water, that
had already been promised twice by the previous programs; but also in this case the project was abandoned.
the fountain's baluster, the coat of arms
of Alexander VII hang from its top part
other pages in part III
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