Fountain of the Four Rivers is a marvelous sculptural work created between 1648 and 1651, commissioned by Pope Innocenzo X, by the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The fountain is located in the center of the famous Piazza Navona in front of the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone by the architect Francesco Borromini.
The Fountain of the Four Rivers, an excellent expression of Baroque art and architecture, is a work composed of an elliptical basin from which emerges a mighty Travertine base depicting a sort of marine cliff on which four giants in White Carrara marble sit , which represent as many impressive rivers: the Nile, the Río della Plata, the Danube and the Ganges; from the center of the rock base, unexpectedly drilled, an Egyptian obelisk, Roman imitation found at the Circus of Maxentius on the Via Appia, rises towards the sky.
The extraordinary sculptural group is completed by seven animals also finely carved in Carrara White Marble: a lion, a crocodile, a sea snake, a horse, a land snake, a dolphin and a dragon.
Finally, there is a bronze dove on top of the obelisk and two papal coats of arms, that of the Pamphili with dolphins and that of Innocent X.
The splendid giants, depicted naked, in their unusual balance and in their exuberant expressiveness load the work of symbolism and a strong dynamism, the work as a whole is a hymn to movement, the representation of animals, in their majesty, strengthens this drawing.
Legends and anecdotes about the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi
Curious legends and anecdotes exist around the origin and creation of the Fountain of the Four Rivers.
To win the assignment for the design of the fountain, Bernini seems to have given a silver model in scale about a meter and a half high to Olimpia Maidalchini, princess of San Martino al Cimino, sister-in-law of the Pope, who would later play a decisive role in convincing Innocent X to assign the assignment to Bernini.
In fact, it seems that the sculptor was not particularly popular with the new Pontiff who preferred the work of the other great protagonist of the time Francesco Borromini, legend has it that the Pope in derision would initially have decided to assign Bernini the design of the only pipeline that he should have brought water to the fountain.
A sympathetic anecdote, on the other hand, says that on the day of the inauguration, no water flowed into the fountain, those present, including Innocent X, admired by the majesty and wonder of what had been accomplished, did not dare to raise any observations regarding the incident, when the the event came to a close Bernini would finally have given orders to open the water and make it flow to the fountain, a nice idea to amuse those present, the Pontiff would have commented: “Cavalier Bernini, with this pleasure of yours you have increased us by 10 years of life!”.
Other anecdotes originate from the alleged rivalry between Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Franceso Borromini, in one, for example, it is said that the colossus representing the River Nile, which stands opposite the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone, covers its face to avoid seeing this work by Borromini, the anecdote has no basis as the construction of the church is posthumous to the construction of the fountain.
Find out more about the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi on Wikipedia