The fluid geometries of the Fountain of the four rivers, by Bernini
The four rivers, symbol of ROMAN BAROQUE
"In Rome you can find the remains of that so peculiar magnificence and destruction, one more than the other able to go over our imagination!”
This is one of the best known quotations expressed about Rome by the German play writer Goethe, as he could be considered the creator of the current tourist guides, thanks to his " Italian journey"; he wanted to express the astonishment you could feel the first time you discover one of the most famous squares in Rome, where the majestic Fountain of the Four Rivers is situated.
It would be superfluous to describe the fountain without telling the story strictly connected with the one about its square, together with the other wonders situated there. It is the symbol of the perfection with no comparison that ideological and cultural movement had, during the 17th and 18th century, wrongly defined "Baroque"; the fountain is the perfect symbol according to the suggestion and enhancement of the power of god it gives.
ART AS ASTONISHMENT
What you feel when you see this work for the first time is a very strange sensation of greatness and lack of power. As other examples of Baroque art, the ability of astonishing The Spectator, living him speechless is a typical feature Bernini had, together with the perfect shapes of the bodies and faces he realized.
HUMAN FACES RIVERS
One of the peculiarities of this fountain is its capacity of making some human sensations and behaviours very real and human, without losing grace and harmony. And the geometrical shapes have an evocative value: placing it in the middle of the square, where in the past there was a fountain shows the importance of the monument itself, enhancing the power of the Pope as the symbol of Christianity.
It's funny to think the fountain could have been very different from the way we can see it nowadays, if the political genius - not only autistic - Bernini would have given up in front of the hard work. It is said that the pope of the time, Giovanni Battista Pamphilj (Innocenzo X), close to the other then very important architect Francesco Borromini, didn't like the Neapolitan artist very much, as he was protected by the previous Pope, Urbano VIII, descendant by the Barberini' family, in conflict with Pamphilj's. For this reason, in order to cover the past, when she became Pope, Innocenzo X tried to cancel all the artistic personalities connected with the Barberini family; one of them was Bernini, the one he decided to charge only to complete the Acqua Claudia work, at the beginning.
Thanks to his very strong personality, Bernini succeeded in persuading the Pope to charge him for realizing the Four Rivers fountain. And he did it by a trick: it is said he gave a miniature of the fountain made of silver to the Pope' sister-in-law, Olimpia Maidalchini, a very ambiguous but important woman, responsible of heading convinced it the pubs to choose Bernini among the other competitors, excluding the then favourite one Borromini.
This episode marked the beginning of what has been considered one of the greatest rivalries in the world of architecture, and the fountain is it symbol.
A PEARL IN A TRUNK
Together with other two very beautiful fountains - the Moro's and the Calderari's - unfortunately darkened by the greatness of Bernini's work, there is another rectangular one situated on the then Domiziano' Stadium.
It was built in 1651, and it is the symbol of the triumph the church had on the four most important areas of the world at the time, symbolized by the four most important rivers then known: the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile, and the Rio De La Plata, with an obelisk from Massenzio' circus. To make each river different from the others, each giant representing them was charged to a different sculptor. We know Bernini was helped by Giacomo Antonio Fancelli, to realise the Nile by Claude Poussin to make the Ganges, by Antonio Raggi for the Danube, and by Francesco Baratta for the Rio De La Plata. Even people not so expert in art can recognize the allegories representing each river.
-The Nile is a lion with a palm tree, to symbolize Africa;
- the Rio De La Plata - that means “silver” in Spanish - has silver coins as a symbol of its water colour;
- the Danube, depicted buy a horse and some flowers, remembering the plains;
- the Ganges, keeping a long oar, to show the navigability of water.
LEGEND OR REALITY
In addition to this beauty, its legends make it very peculiar.
The most famous one tells about the strange movements one of the four rivers' arm makes: the Rio De La Plata in front of Sant'Agnese in Agone church, a work by Borromini. It is said that the statue is trying to protect itself by the imminent collapse of the church's dome, suggesting the lack of ability of its designer, Borromini; also the river Nile seems to cover it eyes in order not to see the church, but another version tells they are covered just to symbolize the uncertainty of its sources.
However, despite of its legends, it's impossible not to get astonished to by a so great beauty. Bernini's giants appear even more real thanks to their movements. A mixture of expressive exuberance and metaphorical symbolism; in addition to the four rivers, the representation of seven animals and natural elements around the fountain and closely related to the personifications of the rivers is worth of attention.
You will surely get astonished by this wonderful work from as Goethe did, and you will understand why Quinto Orazio Flacco said "you will see nothing better than Rome in the world".
Do you want to stay in Rome?
For this location we recommend Apartments & Suites in Rome, apartments full of charm for your roman stay