The Trevi Fountain: One of Rome's Most Splendid Sculptural Fountains
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
This breath-taking sculptural fountain that decorates the façade of the Palazzo Poli is so much more than a popular tourist site.
Designed by Nicola Salvi and built in 1732-1762, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the whole of Rome. Moreover, it is a splendid and opulent depiction of the force of water, and its abundance in the Eternal City.
In the central niche of the sculptural composition stands Neptune, the God of the Sea. He presides over the sea, which in this case, is represented by the water collected in the basin of the Trevi fountain. Notice the representation of rocks and vegetation that surround the figures and the foundation of the palace.
Neptune stands upon a large shell-shaped chariot that is being pulled forward by two sea horses, each guided by a triton. The sea horse to the left is agitated and wild; whereas the sea horse to the right is calm and composed. This is meant to represent the two natures of the sea that is sometimes wavy and sometimes calm depending on the weather.
To either side of Neptune, stand two female allegorical figures. To Neptune’s left, a female figure carries a basket of fruit; she symbolises Abundance. To Neptune’s right, a female figure is accompanied by a snake that drinks out of her water basin; she represents Salubrity (meaning Health). So together, these two allegorical figures encapsulate the importance of the water that flows in this area, and its benefits to the people of Rome.
The two sculptural panels above the figures of Abundance and Salubrity depict the legend of the ancient water source that supplies this fountain with water. It depicts a young virgin who supposedly discovered a spring of water in the late 1st century BC, which she showed to some passing soldiers. Years later, in 19BC, Agrippa constructed the Aqueduct ‘Aqua Vergine’ upon that very spot; namely the Aqueduct that supplies the Trevi fountain with water.
At the top of the fountain, the papal coat of arms is suspended by angels.
The gushing water of the Trevi fountain animates the figures, all of whom are all poised in dynamic and dramatic stances. Notice Neptune’s drapery that billows in the wind in a highly dramatized fashion. Look at the intense expression of the triton on the right who blows into a sea shell.
- If you visit this sculptural fountain, notice the pilaster to the very right of the Palazzo Poli which begins to mutate into the rocks of the fountain.
- The name Trevi comes from the Italian words ‘tre vie’ (meaning three streets), as the fountain is found at the intersection of three different Roman streets.
- The Trevi fountain is one of 280 fountains that are dispersed around the Eternal City.