Fountains of Papal Rome/Fontana del Mosè

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This is the first of the great Fontana fountains, and if Domenico Fontana got his inspiration for it from the beautiful public fountain made by Amannati for Julius III on the Via Flaminia, with which he was familiar before the Casino was placed above it, his fountain in its turn became the prototype for the great fountains erected in the next century by his brother for Pope PaulV.

This Fountain of the Moses is a great portal consisting of three arches equal in size, from the base of which the water issues in double cascades. The water falls into three large basins guarded by couchant lions, and each lion spouts an additional stream of water. In the centre archway stands a colossal figure of Moses in the act of striking the rock, and the niches on either side of him are filled by high reliefs of scenes from the Old Testament relative to the importance and significance of water. The relief to the right represents Gideon testing his soldiers and is the work of Flaminio Vacca, and in the left Giovanni Battista della Porta has carved the scene in the desert after Moses has brought the water from the rock. Four beautiful marble columns with Ionic capitals stand one on either side of these arches, and in the small triangular spaces between the capitals and the keystones are the emblems of Sixtus V the star, the three mounts, the pear branch and the lion. These arches and columns support a massive entablature of which the inscription, in the noble Sixtine caligraphy, forms the most important feature, and is, in fact, the most impressive part of the entire structure. Above the inscription rises the florid pediment, flanked by two obelisks (an idea distinctly borrowed from Amannati's fountain) and bearing on its apex the three mounts of Sixtus V which carry the huge iron cross. Underneath this and occupying the greater part of the pediment are the armorial bearings of Sixtus V. The huge shield is supported by two angels, a conceit borrowed, perhaps, from Pius IV's escutcheon over the Porta Pia, and repeated again for Paul V in his fountain on the Janiculum. The armorial sculpture is by Flaminio Vacca. Such is the great Fontana fountain, grandiose rather than magnificent, but still distinctly imposing and adequately filling by its size and importance the honorable position which it occupies among the fountains of Rome. It is the main delivery tank of the Acqua Felice; and the Acqua Felice was the first new supply of water which Rome had received since the aqueducts had been cut off from the city by Vitiges in 53y.

The statue of Moses is a colossal blunder. Prospero Bresciano had modelled the curious Sixtine lions which served to support the Vatican obelisk, and the Pope gave him the commission for the principal figure in his great fountain. Contrary to the advice of his friends, Bresciano carved this statue, which was to be his masterpiece, directly from the travertine without any previous modelling the block lying horizontally on the ground. When the figure was raised it was found to be not only out of proportion but also out of conformity with the laws of perspective. Its unveiling was greeted by the critical Roman populace with a shout of derisive laughter, so Homeric in its volume and duration that it utterly condemned the artist, who, as a result, fell into a melancholia and died.

The present lions, which are of bigio marble, are modern, dating from the days of Gregory XVI (1846). This Pope created the Egyptian Museum in the Vatican and removed thither the original lions, which were of Egyptian origin and had been appropriated for his fountain by Sixtus V two from the Piazza of the Pantheon and two from the gate of St. John Lateran.

The two great points of difference between the Fontana fountains and the Amannati fountain on the Raminian Way are interesting and significant. They are, first, the place of the inscription, and secondly the volume of water. The first point of difference is due to the fact that the Fontana fountains, here and on the Janiculum, proclaim the appearance in the city of a new supply of water. Sixtus V and Paul V had each built a new aqueduct and could announce the fact conspicuously by magnificent inscriptions; whereas Julius III, using a stream of water from an aqueduct already in existence, could only claim the honor of having erected the fountain for the convenience of the public. His inscription, therefore, is not borne aloft on triumphal arches but occupies a place in the central niche, filled in Sixtus V's fountain by the figure of Moses, and in Paul V's fountain left absolutely vacant. The stream which Julius III dared appropriate from the Virgo Aqueduct was only large enough to fill a single basin placed before the central niche of AmannatFs fountain; whereas in the Fontana fountains the water fills the entire space below the mostra, as it was naturally the intention to show the magnitude and force of the new supply.

Pope Sktus V's great fountain demands for its effect, like Paul V's, wide and spacious surroundings. The high modern buildings crowding upon it and dwarfing it have done much toward dfmrmahiTig its artistic values. One of the panels in the Vatican Library shows what the fountain was like in the years immediately following its erection. Gardens and vineyards lay all about it, and it easily dominated the walls and gateways which were its only architectural neighbors. The Porta Pia to the left merely enhanced its dignity, and in the far distance the hills, aqueducts, and the open sky lent themselves for a magnificent background.

The Acqua Felice, which was the first water of papal Rome, had been the last water brought to the ancient city. In 226 the Emperor Alexander Severus built the eleventh and last aqueduct of the classic city. Its remains are still to be seen on the Via Praenestina. Over this aqueduct he brought the AcquaAlexandrina, which was from practically the same sources as those which now supply the Acqua Felice. The Acqua Alexandrina was brought by the Emperor down the Via Labicana as far as the Esquiline, where he erected for it a magnificent fountain. A coin of his period shows the design to have somewhat resembled the present "Fontanone" on the Janiculum.

Sixtus V selected as the site for his fountain an open space on the Viminal Hill near the Church of Santa Susanna. He faced it southwest, at right angles to the Via Pia, which terminated at some distance to the northeast in the Porta Pia. The Acqua Felice enters Rome at the Porta Maggiore at the altitude of 5g metres and supplies 21,682.8 cubic metres of water daily. In order to bring the water to Fontana's fountain it was necessary to cut a wide street, the Via Ceruaia, and to tunnel through the Baths of Diocletian. Although the Acqua Felice served the Pope's purposes and literally made the desert blossom like the rose, Sixtus V had no sentiment about it. When the water actually reached the city, his sister and nephew, tihniTring to please him, hastened to bring hi a cupful. The Pope, who hated a scene of any kind, refused to drink it, declaring that it had no taste, which is quite true. It is to this day the least valued of the Roman waters, and the overflow or "lapsed water" of Fontana's great fountain is used for laundry purposes.

The Pope bought the land containing the feedingsprings of the Acqua Felice from Cardinal Colonna, and brought it to the city underground for thirteen miles and for the remaining seven over arches. Its channel is known as the "ugly aqueduct."

The worst of the crimes committed by Sixtus V and Domenico Fontana against the antiquities of the city was the destruction of the Septizonium. Artists of the period have left invaluable sketches of this last fine example of classic architecture. It had been built by Septimius Severus against the Palatine, probably as an architectural screen to the mass of confused buildings in its rear. It faced south down the road by which travellers from Africa entered the city. It had survived the sieges, the earthquakes, and the fires of more than thirteen centuries; yet Sixtus V, without a qualm, demolished it for the sake of the blocks of travertine and peperino and its beautiful marble columns, which he wished to use in his own architectural enterprises. It is impossible not to wonder what were Fontana's feelings as he superintended the destruction of this masterpiece of his own profession. He does little more than mention the fact in his memoirs, and this may be in itself significant* Some of the material went into the fabric of the Moses fountain; but the Romans never forgave either Sixtus V or Fontana. Considering the dearth of water in Rome in the sixteenth century and the character of Sixtus V, the conception of the central idea of this fountain that of Moses striking the rock was not only happy but almost inevitable. Although the Pope was an ardent churchman, it was easier for him to believe in the conversion to Catholicism of the conqueror of ivory than to understand that the Roman ruins had any other than a commercial value* Leo X had believed in art "for art's sake." To Sixtus V, on the other hand, all the efforts of painting, sculpture, and architecture were to be for the glory of God, more particularly as that glory was understood and expounded by himself. The Neptunes and Tritons of later pontificates would have seemed to him creations of the devil. The Old Testament was to him, as it was to the English Puritan of the next century, the source of artistic inspiration; and for his great fountain the Hebrew lawgiver, bringing the water out of the rock at the Divine command, was alone adequate. It was not unnatural for him to think of himself as standing in the place of Moses.



Pope Sixtus V, of the Marches, conducted this water from a junction of several streams in the neighborhood of Colonna, at the left of the Pr&nestine road, by a winding route, twenty miles from its reservoir and twenty-two from its source, and called it Felix, after the name he himself bore before his pontificate. He commenced the work in the first year of his pontificate, and finished it in the third, 1587.