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four rivers fountain

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Model for the Four Rivers Fountain, Piazza Navona, Rome, c. 1650, Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna

Piazza Navona

Four Rivers Fountain

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

civic architecture

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was one of the most innovative architects and sculptors of the Baroque. Born in Naples in 1598, his long and successful artistic career lasted from his teens until his death in 1680. Following his early success in Rome, where he worked for the city's most powerful families and the popes, his fame spread across the whole of Europe. His royal patrons included King Charles I of England and King Louis XIV of France. A sculptor, architect, painter, stage designer, poet, and dramatist, Bernini created dynamic monuments that combined the arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture in an integrated whole.

The Four Rivers Fountain in the Piazza Navona in Rome is one of Bernini's most celebrated works. Designed and built between 1648 and 1651 for Pope Innocent X Pamphili, the fountain commemorates the pope's redirection of water from the Acqua Vergine (one of Rome's principal water supplies) to the square in front of his family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili. Bernini's fountain ingeniously incorporates an ancient Egyptian obelisk, which had been recovered from the Circus Maxentius in Rome, with a tall stone base. Set on the rocks are four large figures symbolizing the four great rivers of the four quarters of the world -- the Danube for Europe, the Nile for Africa, the Ganges for Asia, and the Plata for the Americas.

This model, circa 1650, is an early study for the final design for the Four Rivers Fountain. The sculpted rock of the fountain base is represented with wood, and the one surviving figure, representing the Plata River, is modeled in clay. The design of the finished fountain differs slightly from that of the model: the circular form of the basin became an oval, and the openings in the rock were made more irregular.

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