Fountains of Piazza Farnese

Fontane Gemelle di Piazza Farnese — 1626

Fountain of Piazza Farnese

Author: Girolamo Rainaldi
Dating: 1626
Materials: white marble, Egyptian granite, travertine
Original supply: Paolo aqueduct

The two fountains were built around 1626 by the will of the Farnese family on the square in front of their residence. Girolamo Rainaldi (1570-1655), author of the project, created them by reusing two monumental Roman-age basins in Egyptian granite, already present on the square.

The provenance of the two ancient basins is not entirely clear. According to antiquarian sources, they arrived in Piazza Farnese from the Baths of Caracalla at different times: shortly after the enlargement (1538) and the brick paving (1545) of the square, the presence of a single basin is testified in 1568 it underwent restoration. In fact, in a print by van Cleef, datable to around 1545 - 1550, a single basin is visible in the area in front of the Farnese palace, placed in line with the portal of the building and used as a stage for a bullfight that takes place all 'around. Only at the end of the sixteenth century did Cardinal Alessandro Farnese obtain from the Apostolic Chamber that a second basin be transported to the square, which had already been in Piazza San Marco for more than a century and also believed to come from the Baths of Caracalla.

The basins were adapted as fountains only in the seventeenth century, with the addition of the Paola water in via Giulia. In fact, with a chirograph dated 1 September 1621, Gregorio XV Ludovisi (1621 - 1623) gave the Farnese, for the use of their palace, an enormous quantity of Paola water (40 ounces). Following the donation, the Farnese family commissioned the architect Girolamo Rainaldi to design the transformation of the two basins into modern fountains.

The two fountains have an identical pattern: a mixtilinear basin in travertine, placed on a base with a step, welcomes in the center the oval basin of Egyptian granite, decorated on the long sides with a central lion head and two handles. At the center of the basin rises an elaborate baluster in travertine with a circular foot which supports a quadrilobed marble cup surmounted by a Farnese lily. Detail of the marble cup surmounted by a Farnese lily

Apparently identical, the two Roman basins actually differ in size, decoration and state of conservation of the surfaces: the basin of the fountain located towards the church of S. Brigida, smaller and with almost perfectly preserved surfaces, shows signs of rework in the protomes leonine, stylistically referable to the sixteenth century. The other basin, with large areas of detachment of the materials and one of the Leonine masks almost totally abraded, did not undergo alterations in the modern age, and therefore retains the original processing more intact. Leonine masks

By 1920 the fountains, formerly owned by the Farnesiana Company, passed to the Municipality of Rome. In 1938-1939 the south-east fountain underwent a restoration which involved the complete replacement of the lily, the baluster and the lip of the lower basin. The other, however, was not touched, and is therefore better preserved in the seventeenth-century parts: the apical lily, presumably original, is in white marble.