St. Peter’s Fountain

Fountains are among the most successful monuments of the late Renaissance,” and those which stand on either side of the great Square of St. Peter’s show that Symonds’s statement should be enlarged so as to include the century which followed that period. Mr. John Evelyn, the accomplished English traveller of the seventeenth century, saw the fountain of Paul V soon after its completion and describes it in his diary as the “goodliest I ever saw.” Since his day the twin fountains both of Trafalgar Square and of the Place de la Concorde have been erected, but Evelyn could still give the superlative praise to the great Roman model. Although the two fountains in the Square of St. Peter’s are exactly alike they are not of precisely the same date. The conception of the design belongs to Carlo Maderno, who executed the fountain on the right of the approach to the basilica for Pope Paul V (Borghese, 16o5-1621), while the fountain to the left was copied from this for Pope Clement X (Altieri, 1670-1676), some sixty years later. Clement’s courtiers had observed that whenever His Holiness walked in the direction of Paul V’s great fountain his eyes continually turned toward it. At length Clement ordered his architect, Carlo Fontana, nephew of Carlo Maderno, to make an exact copy of Maderno’s work and to erect it on the south side of the obelisk. The double fountain not only enhances the magnificence of the entire scene, but so changes it by introducing the additional element of balance that Clement X’s order for the second fountain was in reality an order for a new composition. The coat of arms cut upon the octagonal support of the upper basins and half hidden and obliterated by the falling water is, on the right-hand fountain, that of the Borghese family (the crowned eagle above the dragon); and on the left-hand fountain, that of the Altieri family, an inverted pyramid of six stars. The latter fountain looks as if it were the older, for, as it is situated in the southeast corner of the wide piazza, it is exposed to the full sweep of the Tramontana, or north wind, which has fretted and worn in no small degree the surface of the travertine. It may have been the more sheltered position of the northeast corner which determined the location of Paul V’s fountain, the earlier of the two.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9