Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Three Coins In A Fountain: Nicolò Salvi's Fontana di Trevi

1732-1762 ~ Piazza di Trevi, Rome

In an Eternal City brimming with eternal monuments, each more majestic and beautiful than its predecessor, the Trevi Fountain is as unique in its theatricality as it is in its history. More than any other public monument in Rome, the Trevi embodies the opulence of the Late Roman Baroque: a fusion of sculpture, water and architecture - all three elements coalesce into a single, allegorical monument; a drama of operatic proportions, wrought in stone.

Tucked away - like a hidden gem - in a converging network of streets and deriving its name from its position at the intersection of three thoroughfares - tre vie in Italian or trivium in Latin - this aquatic structure (part public fountain, part piazza) was created during the latter end of the Baroque era and completed in 1762; it took thirty years to bring to fruition, encompassing the reigns of several pontiffs and the life of its creator. (Three of the original seven streets that converge at the fountain - the Via della Muratte, the Via dei Crociferi, and the Via della Stamperia - adhere to the same layout much as they did in ancient Roman times: trivium.) The fountain's origin, however, is much older and its history can be traced back some two thousand years: on June the 9th, 19 B.C.E., Rome celebrated the opening of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct, which was constructed by the consul Marcus Agrippa in order to supply water to the newly completed buildings on the Campus Martius. In Marcus Agrippa's time, the Aqua Virgo may well have continued to the River Tiber. But, as George H. Sullivan notes in his book, Not Built In A Day: Exploring The Architecture of Rome (2006), "...in medieval times maintenance of the final section of the aboveground arcade carrying the water conduit was discontinued, and the functioning Aqua Virgo - the only aqueduct to be repaired after the barbarian invasions - ended here."
(Source &  quote: Sullivan, G.H., Not Built In A Day: Exploring The Architecture of Rome, 2006:156)

The original plan for the Fontana di Trevi was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII Barberini (1623-1644), the great patron and friend of Gian-Lorenzo Bernini. It was Bernini who was asked by the pope to renovate the simple and small fountain that, in 1453, Pope Nicholas V had placed just west of the Piazza di Trevi. True to form, Bernini drafted some grandiose designs for Urban VIII that, for whatever reason - perhaps due to his fall from his position as the preeminent papal architect by the succeeding pope, Innocent X Pamphili (1644-1655) - did not come to fruition. One detail of Bernini's plans did withstand the waxing and waning of pontificates and which was adhered to by consecutive pontiffs: the reorientation of the fountain to its location on the north side of the piazza where it remains to this day. (The prime reason for Bernini's decision to re-site the fountain's location to the other side of the piazza was to afford Urban VIII an enjoyable view from the Quirinal Palace.)     

Then in the year 1730, the newly elected Pope Clement XII Corsini (1730-1740) decided to rebuild the existing fountain already in place and  a design competition commenced. (At the nearby Quirinal Palace, some thirty different design models were suggested and displayed; the judging process alone took two years for the final decision to be reached.) From that competition, it was Nicolò Salvi's model which was decided upon and it may have been because his design addressed a specific problem: during the 1720s, the owners of the nearby Palazzo Poli  had purchased and  then demolished the buildings which stood on either side of the existing fountain, "and had replaced them with a new and distinctly undistinguished addition to their palazzo that flanked the fountain with identical wings. Salvi's proposal for the fountain included a complete redesign of this façade - ultimately he ended up constructing a second and false front, as can be seen at either corner of the palazzo - and he thereby incorporated the preexisting building into the composition in a way that the other proposals did not." And what Salvi proposed and ultimately created was an exceptional  monument so captivating that it has come to embody the spirit of the Late Roman Baroque, surpassing any other fountain in Rome, in either beauty or magnificence. 
(Sources & quote: Sullivan, G.H., Not Built In A Day: Exploring The Architecture of Rome, 2006:156; Fontana di Trevi, deckardpress, undated; eng.archinform.net, 2011)  

The above two images are courtesy of: http://www.worldtourist.us/

Nicolò Salvi (1697-1751) - who is also known as Niccolò or Nicola - was thirty-five years of age when he won the commission for the Trevi Fountain; it was his first major work. And, as it turned out, the Trevi was also his last work as he spent the rest of his life supervising  its construction and turning down other commissions in the hope of seeing it to completion. And although he was present, during the reign of Pope Benedict XIV in 1743, to witness the sight and sounds of the first gushes of water flowing at the still-incomplete fountain, he did not live to see the final touches put in place. (In 1744, Salvi was struck with partial paralysis and died on February 6th, 1751, eleven years prior to the installation of the final sculptures - the two sea-horses and their triton attendants [in Greek mythology, tritons were the sons of the god of the sea, Poseidon, and Amphitrite; they are represented as having the head and torso of a man and the tail of a fish and using a conch-shell for a trumpet] - which completed the fountain.)  (Source: Sullivan, G.H., Not Built In A Day: Exploring The Architecture of Rome, 2006)

The figure of Oceanus
Photo by Frank ~ 2008
Image courtesy of: http://picasaweb.google.com/

The striking thing about the Trevi is its confident melding of architecture and sculpture - the effortless transition between  the the man-made world and the natural one - in one theatrical masterpiece. (Indeed, looking at Salvi's monument, there is a feeling akin to that of looking at an operatic production being enacted on stage or a lavish, fantastical mise en scène with the palazzo's façade for a backdrop.) The façade is a structured and  orderly  form composed of niches, windows and pillars (architecture) while 'nature,'  as it is actualized  in the charging figures, boulders, flora and fauna (sculpture), is apparent in that most natural and abundant element of all: water - thundering, energetic, alive and fluid. 

John A. Pinto has, in The Trevi Fountain (1999), remarked, "The smooth masonry and elegant decoration of the architecture are made to appear the logical refinement of the irregular 'scogli' [rocks] below; the eye moves from water and reefs to shell, niche, and pilaster in a progression of increasingly formal definition... The architecture of the Fontana di Trevi appears to grow organically from the living rock." It is that contradiction between opposites - nature and artifice, architecture and sculpture - which gives the Trevi its dynamism. "Taken together, the palazzo wings and the fountain rocks embody a whole series of artistic contrasts: symmetrical vs. asymmetrical, geometric vs. geomorphic, formal vs. informal, urban and urbane vs. rustic and rough. Between these extremes is the triumphal arch that is the key to the whole composition. Its bold columns and niches stand forth from the echoing pilasters and windows of the palazzo wings, but its heavy architectural mass is softened and enlivened by its abundant statuary, and particularly by the central figure of Oceanus, who rides forth out of his niche to command the waters below."

It is largely due, as George H. Sullivan correctly points out, to the mediating presence of the central arch or niche that the progression from "abstract architectural form to naturalistic sculptural display... is fluid and seamless." It is that massive central niche - the pivotal axis - around which the whole work relies and revolves. (Source & quotes: Sullivan, G.H., Not Built In A Day: Exploring The Architecture of Rome, 2006:154)  

Image courtesy of: http://soe.ucdavis.edu/

The side wings of the Palazzo's façade were based on Michelangelo's unrealized design plans for another palazzo, the Palazzo del Senatore on the Campidoglio. And although Salvi's façade bestows a formal, dignified and symmetrical counterweight to the seemingly chaotic, flowing display below, it is the iconography of figures - wholly related to water - which lend the fountain its theatricality. The spectator's eye is immediately drawn to that central niche and its godly figure of Oceanus (also referred to as Poseidon), ruler of the waters, setting forth on an oyster-shell from within its confines, drawn by two spirited and winged marine-steeds. Oceanus's sea-horses are attended by two tritons, one of whom trumpet-sounds the god's arrival through his conch-shell while his counterpart attempts to bring his unruly steed under control. (The two sea-horses, one agitated, the other calm, are a reference to the dual and unpredictable nature of the sea.)

Ensconced in niches on either side of Oceanus are Fillipo della Valle's allegorical female figures of (Copia) Abundance (standing on the left, holding a cornucopia) and (Salubritate) Health (standing on the right, offering a libation to a snake, symbol of Aesculapius, the god of health and medicine; in Rome, the waters of the Aqua Virgo were the most prized for drinking). Above each these two figures of Abundance and Health are square bas-reliefs illustrating the historic antiquity of the Trevi's Aqua Virgo waters: "on the right, the discovery of the source (springs at Salone, some ten miles east of Rome) [as legend has it, by thirsty Roman soldiers in 19 B.C.E. through the divination of a virgin who leads them to an underground pool]; on the left, the construction of the aqueduct arcades that carry the waters through the city." A further symbolic reference to the merits of the waters is manifested in the four figures, standing atop of the attic of the central arch, who display fruits, grains, grapes and flowers in their arms. Rising like a crescendo to crown the entire façade are the papal insignia and family shield of Clement XII, flanked by the two angelic, trumpeting figures of Fame. (Sources & quote: Sullivan, G.H., Not Built In A Day: Exploring The Architecture of Rome, 2006:155; Fontana di Trevi, deckardpress, undated; garden-fountains.com, 2007)  

Directly beneath the balustrade and the papal escutcheon (and in between two of the four figures atop of the central arch) is the Latin inscription, in capital letters, which reads: Clemens XII. Pont. Max. Aqvam Virginem Copia et Salvbritate Commendatam Cvltv Magnifico Ornavit Anno Domini MDCCXXXV. Pontif. VI (Clement XII, the Supreme Pontiff has ornamented with great care the Virgin Waters with these decorous personifications of Abundance and Health in the year of our Lord 1735, during the sixth year of his pontificate.) (Translation courtesy of: Fontana di Trevi, deckardpress, undated)

Tritons & Steeds
The above three images are courtesy of: http://www.all-art.org/

But there is much more to Salvi's fountain than meets the passing traveler's eye and it is the small, hidden details, not so readily visible, that enchant. Salvi has incorporated a myriad of tiny flora and fauna that are overlooked by the many tourists who visit his fountain. Strewn among the fountain's boulders are some thirty or more varieties of flora which include: oak tree, fig tree, grapevine, acanthus plant, leek, marigold, and prickly pear. And from the multitude of crevices emerges the occasional lizard  or snail, out to feed or to bask under the Roman sun. Salvi has even suggested water's opposite attribute - its ability to destroy the achievements of man and to wreak havoc: "on the right-hand palazzo wing, the base of the outermost pilaster is cracking and crumbling, splitting into pieces as it returns to its natural state and falls away onto the rocks below." 
(Source & quote: Sullivan, G.H., Not Built In A Day: Exploring The Architecture of Rome, 2006:155)  

The two sea-horses, one agitated, the other calm, are a reference to the dual nature of the sea
The above two images are courtesy of: http://photos.igougo.com/

The above six photos are by Alberto Chiulli ~ 2007
The above six images are courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/

Health (Salubritate)
Photo by J0N6 ~ 2010
Image courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/

Abundance (Copia)
Photo by Philip Hall ~ 2010

The Papal crown and insignia (escutcheon) flanked by the angelic figures of Fame

The two photos above are by Jason ~ 2008
The above three images are courtesy of: http://picasaweb.google.com/

l'Asso di Coppe (The Ace of Cups)
Photograph by Lalupa ~ 2007
Image courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org/

On the right-hand edge of the fountain's basin is peculiar object with an equally peculiar anecdotal origin attached to it - an outcropping of rock that is transformed into a colossal urn: l'Asso di Coppe (The Ace of Cups). A repository for the waters that drip into a drinking trough beneath the outcrop on the fountain side, the urn was not part of Salvi's original plan. However, during the fountain's construction, Salvi would regularly visit the site, clambering onto the rocks to inspect the work in progress. But to his irritation, Salvi's visits were often disrupted by the patrons of a local barber shop on the Via della Stamperia who - as the story has it - would emerge half-shaven to shout out their criticisms of his work. In a fit of rage, Salvi added the urn to his plans in order to completely block the view of his fountain from the barber shop.
(Source: Sullivan, G.H., Not Built In A Day: Exploring The Architecture of Rome, 2006)  

Photo by Felipe Busnello ~ 2007
Image courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org/

Succumbing to complications from pneumonia developed as a result of labouring in damp and chilly conditions in the underground aqueduct, as has already been noted, Salvi died in 1751 before seeing his work come to full realization and leaving it half-finished. The Fontana di Trevi was completed in 1762 by Giuseppe Pannini who seems to have modified a few of Salvi's design plans under the pontificate of Pope Clement XIII Rezzonico (1758–1769). One such modification involved the present statues of Abundance and Health. Their niches had originally been occupied by other, wooden figures, placed there by Salvi: that of Agrippa in one and the virgin, who had directed the Roman soldiers to the source of the waters, in the other. Pannini removed the statue of Agrippa and replaced it with Abundance; the virgin was replaced with Health.

It was the previous pontiff, Pope Benedict XIV Lambertini (1740-1758), who, although still far from being entirely completed, officially declared the fountain open in 1744 (Benedict grandly inscripted, in bold golden letters, the entablature above the central  niche and the corinthian columns with the words Perfecit Benedictvs XIV Pon. Max. (Completed by Benedict XIV, the Supreme Pontiff),  insinuating the fountain's completion during his reign). It is the only monument in Rome to bear the names of three popes. (Sources: Fontana di Trevi, deckardpress.com, undated; garden-fountains.com, 2007)

Image courtesy of: http://www.gq.com/

The Trevi has also been immortalised in celluloid in one of the most iconic and memorable scenes of Italian cinema. Sylvia, Anita Ekberg's character in Federico Fellini's sensational 1960 cult-classic, La Dolce Vita, wades seductively through the Trevi Fountain's basin - big enough to suffice as a public pool - and beckons for Marcello Mastroianni's character, Marcello Rubini, to join her.

In addition to La Dolce Vita, the Trevi was also featured in the 1953 Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck film, Roman Holiday as well as the 1954 romantic-comedy, Three Coins In The Fountain, starring Clifton Webb, Dorothy McGuire, Jean Peters and Maggie McNamara in which three American girls working in Italy, toss a coin over their shoulders into the Trevi in their wished (and hoped) for desire of finding love and happiness. 
(Sources: imdb.com, 2011; Fontana di Trevi, deckardpress.com, undated)

Similarly, visitors to the Fontana di Trevi today still customarily throw coins into its basin. One tradition has it that tossing three coins over one's left shoulder with one's right hand into the fountain will bring good luck; another holds that coins tossed into the fountain will ensure a return visit to Rome. (Other interpretations specify that two coins thrown will lead to a new romance while three coins will ensure either a breakup or a divorce.) Approximately $3,500 (or 3,000 euros) is thrown into the fountain each day; the coins are collected nightly and the proceeds are used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome's poor. (Source: garden-fountains.com, 2007) 

Anita Ekberg in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita
Image courtesy of: http://www.irishtimes.com/

Video courtesy of:  ~ youtube.com

Photo by Theodore Grimm ~ 2009
Image courtesy of: http://picasaweb.google.com/

Photograph by Kostas Kon ~ 2006
Image courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org/

Video courtesy of:  ~ youtube.com

Photograph by Hisham Besheer ~ 2008
Image courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org

Recommended reading:

The Trevi Fountain (1999), by John A. Pinto: Fine Arts and Monuments Service of Rome

Art In Rome In The Eighteenth Century (2000), by Edgar P. Bowron, Joseph J. Rishel & the Museum of Fine Art, Houston: Philadelphia Museum of Art

Roman Fountains: 2000 Fountains In Rome, A Complete Collection (2002), by Marvin Pulvers: L'Erma di Bretschneider

History And Culture of Italy (2003), by John Hendrix: University Press of America

Not Built In A Day: Exploring The Architecture of Rome (2006), by George H. Sullivan: Da Capo Press

Masters of Italian Sculpture (2007), by Guy Shaked: Lulu.com

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