The three fountains of the Campidoglio have one fundamental characteristic in common-that of being a part of Rome from a period of great antiquity. Like those families who “were there when the Conqueror came,” the sculptures which adorn these fountains have been in Rome since Christian Rome began. All the statues have occupied their present positions a comparatively short time, and have passed through many vicissitudes before reaching the places they now hold. In fact, each fountain of the Campidoglio is a fountain with a past. The sculptural part of each is a survival of some artistic design or idea antedating to a remote period the time of its conversion into the fountain of today.
The general view of the Campidoglio comprises the stairway called ” La Cordonata,” the piazza at its summit crowned by the Palace of the Senators, with the Museum of the Capitol to the left and the Palace of the Conservatori on the right; and it is so impressive in its architectural majesty that the fountain which is a part of it all keeps its true place in the great composition, and is recognized only as a note in the general harmony of proportion, design, and decoration. This is, of course, as it should be?as Michelangelo meant it to be when, some three hundred and seventyfive years ago, the vision of the Campidoglio as it now stands unfolded itself in his brain. Not that every detail of the magnificent reality is as he planned it. The fatality which followed him, spoiling or changing nearly all his great designs, has been at work here; and it is the fountain which has suffered.
This fountain, which is a part of the approach to the Senate House, was to have as its central statue a figure of Jove. Vasari, who is quite carried away with Master Michelangelo’s beautiful design, describes the fountain as if it were already done, -Jove in the centre and the two river-gods on either side. But Michelangelo and the enthusiastic Vasari had been dead for years when Sixtus V brought the Acqua Felice to the Campidoglio and finally erected the fountain. He placed in the noble niche where a colossal and majestic Jupiter should have stood, the antique statue of a Minerva done over to represent Rome. The white marble head and arms of this statue are modern restorations, but the prophyry torso was found at Cori, and its air of undeniable antiquity is all that saves this curiously inadequate figure from utter insignificance. It is too small for the niche it occupies, and is so out of proportion to its surroundings and on so different a plane of artistic treatment that it would quite spoil any creation less triumphantly dominant than is this whole staircase and fagade.