A never built Trevi Fountain: the story behind its creative conception

Last 3rd November, the eyes of the whole world admired the tuneful and crystal clear water flowing again in the Trevi Fountain, finally glowing without fences on the occasion of the disclosure of the recent restoration works lasted 17 months. Deemed as the most magnificent and valuable masterpiece of 18th century Rome, the fountain was celebrated since its very creation. Lesser known is the former story behind its conception, when it was designed on paper with different appearances and even in another place of Rome.

Before the Trevi Fountain

Taddeo di Bartolo, Plan of Rome

Taddeo di Bartolo, Plan of Rome, ca. 1413-1414, fresco, Siena, Palazzo Pubblico.

Various events entailed a “trivium”, the intersection of three streets in the Rione Trevi in Rome (the current piazza di Trevi area) in the ultimate place where the Trevi Fountain would have been built. The “Acqua di Salone”, also called “Aqua Virgo”, a Roman aqueduct had here one of its castelli, the typical hydraulic towers with basins and openings for water distribution.

You find it here

Nicholas V Fountain (1453) with three spouts, woodcut print, 1643.

Niccolò V Fountain (1453) with three spouts, woodcut print, 1643. [12]

A “mostra” (front) of the aqueduct already existed at the times of pope Niccolò V (born Tomaso Parentucelli, Sarzana 1397 – Rome 1455). The decoration of the simple fountain, equipped with a rectangular basin and three spouts has been attributed to Leon Battista Alberti.

Pope Urbano VIII (born Maffeo Barberini, Florence 1568 – Rome 1644) substituted that fountain with a similar one in the current position and imagined a new arrangement of the area around 1640. An ambitious project by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Naples 1598 – Rome 1680) for the piazza di Trevi was gradually begun: some houses on the southern side of the trivium were demolished, transforming the area in a piazza. The direction of the fountain was turned to south and two semi-circular basins were put in place, but the project was destined to remain unfinished after the death of the pope in 1644.

Giovan Battista Falda, Chiesa de Santi Vincenzo, et Anastasio alla fontana di Trevi

Giovan Battista Falda, Chiesa de Santi Vincenzo, et Anastasio alla fontana di Trevi, de Padri religiosi di S. Girolamo architettura di Martino Lunghi il giovine, etching, 1669 (287 x 169) mm. [10]

Pietro da Cortona’s idea for Palazzo Chigi in piazza Colonna

This complex story includes a particular proposal concerning the creation of the Trevi Fountain in another place of Rome: piazza Colonna. Among various artistic models, which inspired the ultimate design of the Trevi Fountain, a special role was represented by one of the most innovative yet never accomplished projects by Pietro da Cortona (Cortona, 1596 – Rome 1669) for the arrangement of piazza Colonna as a celebrative place for the Chigi family. This “utopic” project was commissioned by pope Alessandro VII (born Fabio Chigi, Siena 1599 – Rome 1667) for the residence of his family and it was designed starting from 1659 by the Tuscan architect.

Pietro da Cortona, Design for the reconstruction of the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina

Pietro da Cortona, Design for the reconstruction of the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina, ca. 1636 (published in 1655), architectural drawing, pen and ink and wash, from the collections of John Talman and Francis St. John, London, The Victoria and Albert Museum, Inv. E.306-1937.

In an extremely original composition, Pietro da Cortona introduced a prospect characterized by a powerful giant order of columns and parastas raised on a “bugnato” ground level, which constituted a change in the Roman tradition. The ancient models were however in the mind of Pietro da Cortona, as proved by the earlier design for the reconstruction of the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina, drawn for the cardinal Francesco Barberini around 1636, which could have been a source of inspiration for the use of classic loggias and the concave space.

According to Pietro da Cortona’s project, the large architecture of the Palazzo Chigi based on rectilinear sections, showed the “mostra” of the Trevi water in its central sector. This never built Trevi Fountain was inserted in a concave space, intended to surround the elliptical structure of the basin adorned with sculptures and rocks, naturalistic elements which inspired the relationship between architecture and nature in Nicola Salvi’s ultimate project. [1]

Pietro da Cortona, Project for the façade of Palazzo Chigi in piazza Colonna, 1658-1659, Vatican City, Biblioteca apostolica Vaticana.

Pietro da Cortona, Project for the façade of Palazzo Chigi in piazza Colonna, 1658-1659, Vatican City, Biblioteca apostolica Vaticana.


Pietro da Cortona, Project for the façade of Palazzo Chigi in piazza Colonna, plan, 1658-1659, Vatican City, Biblioteca apostolica Vaticana.

Pietro da Cortona, Project for the façade of Palazzo Chigi in piazza Colonna, plan, 1658-1659, Vatican City, Biblioteca apostolica Vaticana.

A new building plan for piazza di Trevi

The first years of the 18th century in Rome were characterized by the inventive personality of pope Clemente XI Albani (born Giovanni Francesco Albani, Urbino 1649 – Roma 1721), Arcadian and literatus. Strongly motivated to support the arts, he promoted the new Accademia di San Luca instituting the “concorsi clementini” (Clemente’s competitions) with almost annual frequency at the beginning, and fostered the urban redevelopment of the Tiber area (as the building of the porto di Ripetta).

Anonymous, Project for the Trevi Fountain

Anonymous, Project for the Trevi Fountain, plan, 1704-1706, paper (534 x 393) mm, Rome, Istituto Nazionale per la grafica, F.N. 32056 (6717), via Lineamenta.

In order to provide the pope’s family with a deserving residence, in the summer of 1704 a building plan for piazza di Trevi was finalized, in a desired balance between appropriate rigor and personal needs. The aim of the new building plan was to convert the incomplete Palazzo dei Carpegna, where Francesco Borromini had intervened before, to the residence of the Albani family. The new palace had to be expanded to the entire block with a new façade over the piazza di Trevi, to be widened and equipped with regularized perimeters. It was also expected that the unfinished fountain designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini would have been better isolated in the middle of the piazza and its basin adorned with statues, arms and other sculptures. The plan also included the erection of the ancient Column of Antoninus Pius, discovered near Montecitorio. The whole plan was intended to recall the “memories of the Roman antiquities, evidence of magnificence and building expertise”. [2]

The expropriations procedures begun, the marbles were supplied and the architects were invited to submit projects. Unfortunately, the attempt to lift up the heavy column failed and the troubled and expensive plans for piazza di Trevi were gradually abandoned. An anonymous sheet conserved at the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica shows a contemporary project for the Trevi fountain and the arrangement of the piazza. [2]

Pope Clemente XII’s competition

The new arrangement of the early Trevi Fountain thought by Gian Lorenzo Bernini was still incomplete, while the lateral fulfillment of the Palazzo Conti in 1728 allowed only the placing of a little fountain in the middle of the piazza. [3]

Agostino Masucci (ca.1691-1758), Portrait of Pope Clement XII

Agostino Masucci (ca.1691-1758), Portrait of Pope Clement XII, private collection, via The Bridgeman Art Library.

The building of the new fountain was commissioned in 1732 by pope Clemente XII Corsini (born Lorenzo Corsini, Florence 1652 - Rome 1740) in the context of a “concorso clementino”, a competition based on invites. [4] The fruitful contrast between the tendency to classical Antiquity and the modern taste, which shaped the artistic production in the 1730s in Rome, inspired also the projects for the Trevi Fountain submitted by various artists, [5] such as Ferdinando Fuga from Florence, as well as Luigi Vanvitelli and Nicola Salvi from Rome. [6]

The last two architects have been considered to belong to the “berninisti”, the group of artists who followed the path traced by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, [6] even if their projects for the Trevi Fountain merged various elements also hailing from the classicist taste which characterized the pontificate of pope Clemente XII.

Ferdinando Fuga, Project for the Trevi Fountain

Ferdinando Fuga, Project for the Trevi Fountain, plan, 1723, paper (425 x 616) mm, Rome, Istituto Nazionale per la grafica, F.N. 18519 (1196), via Lineamenta.

Remembering the traditional shape of the Roman fountains, Ferdinando Fuga designed a sort of “festive pavilion” with a relatively narrow basin, flanked by two river gods. The scenographic characters of this invention lied in the concave wall, which rose behind the fountain, crowned with an attic and a central inscribed summit. A wide arch opening was probably intended in the middle of the “mostra” and long flights of stairs lead to the piazza from both sides of the fountains.

Luigi Vanvitelli presented noteworthy proposals according to the new taste of that time, which didn’t fully correspond to the classicist inclination of the 17th century. [4] In the project “F.N. 32057 (6715)” a pronounced spatial and plastic effect was obtained with the presence of the wide central exedra while the wide flights of stairs were extended to the side sectors of the façade. [6] In the project “F.N. 32055 (6718)”, considered being later by some scholars, a concave central niche was located between the two wings of the Palazzo di Poli as backdrop of the fountain. As in Nicola Salvi’s conception, the whole façade of the palace was involved in the project. Vanvitelli proposed also an old idea to include the Column of Antoninus Pius on its ancient base as visual point of this structure.

Luigi Vanvitelli (project), Virginio Bracci (drawing), Project B for the Trevi Fountain

Attributed to Luigi Vanvitelli (project), Virginio Bracci (drawing), Project for the Trevi Fountain, plan, 1732, paper (411 x 720) mm, Rome, Istituto Nazionale per la grafica, F.N. 32057 (6715), via Lineamenta.

Vanvitelli - project B for the Trevi Fountain, fron

Copy from Luigi Vanvitelli (project), Virginio Bracci (drawing), Project for the Trevi Fountain, plan, 1732, paper (463 x 711) mm, Montreal, Canadian Centre for Architecture, DR 1966:001:102, via Lineamenta.

Luigi Vanvitelli (project), Virginio Bracci (drawing), Project A for the Trevi Fountain, plan

Luigi Vanvitelli (project), Virginio Bracci (drawing), Project for the Trevi Fountain, plan, 1731-1732, paper (496 x 754) mm, Rome, Istituto Nazionale per la grafica, F.N. 32055 (6718), via Lineamenta.

Luigi Vanvitelli (project), Virginio Bracci (drawing), Project A for the Trevi Fountain, front

Luigi Vanvitelli (project), Virginio Bracci (drawing), Project for the Trevi Fountain, front, 1731-1732, paper (463 x 711) mm, Rome, Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica, 510 x 735, via Lineamenta.

Luigi Vanvitelli, Proposal for the Trevi Fountain

Luigi Vanvitelli, Proposal for the Trevi Fountain, 1730-1732, pen and brown ink with gray wash on laid paper (14.5 x 24) cm, Washington, DC, The National Gallery of Art, William B. O'Neal Fund, Inv. 1999.140.1.

But the rigorous project conceived by Nicola Salvi (Rome, 1697 – Rome, 1751) obtained a positive outcome and the building of the Trevi Fountain was finally assigned to him. [5]

Nicola Salvi, Project of the Trevi Fountain

Nicola Salvi, Project of the Trevi Fountain, 1733, drawing with pen, ink and watercolor on paper (395 x 555) mm, Rome, Museo di Roma, Inv. GS 880.

Nicola Salvi, Fontana di Trevi, 1732, Rome, (C) David Iliff.

Nicola Salvi, Fontana di Trevi, 1732, Rome, (C) David Iliff.

The final creation by Nicola Salvi

Giovanni Paolo Pannini, Pope Benedict XIV visiting the Trevi Fountain

Giovanni Paolo Pannini, Pope Benedict XIV visiting the Trevi Fountain, ca. 1750, oil on canvas (74 x 100) cm, Moscow, The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Inv. 1538.

Inspired by the ancient models, Nicola Salvi conceived the fountain as a classical façade for the terminal area of the Roman aqueduct Aqua Virgo. [3] Nicola Salvi’s deep commitment to express the story and the meaning of the Aqua Virgo is testified by his “Raggioni filosofiche che rende Niccola Salvi dell'Invenzione", where he describes his architectural program. [5]

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Side View of the Trevi Fountain

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Side View of the Trevi Fountain, formerly the Acqua Vergine from Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome), 1747-1748, etching (516 x 697) mm, Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, Inv. 1996.0178.030. [11]

Notwithstanding the protests put up by the owner of the palace, the architect was allowed to use the entire side of the piazza for his majestic creation, thus transforming the urban place in an impressive “mythological marine theatre” with flights of steps for the spectators. [3]

Nicola Salvi succeeded in harmoniously orchestrating the connections to the artistic tradition and especially the Baroque pathos and opulence of the landscape with the monumental classicism of the architectural backdrop, according to the preferences of the papal patronage. [5]

Carlo Antonini, Roma, Fontana di Trevi, etching (46 x 68) cm, via Nagel Auktionen.

Carlo Antonini, Roma, Fontana di Trevi, etching (46 x 68) cm, via Nagel Auktionen.

The imposing statue of the sovereign Oceanus dominates the marine environment and seems to exit from the central niche, driving a shell-shaped chariot accompanied by mythological animals. The central sector of the Palazzo di Poli façade that follows the classical model of a triumphal arch [3] hails from the ancient “mostre” (terminal fronts) belonging to the Roman aqueducts. The order of the giant columns of the central structure continues on both the sides, articulated by severe parastas. [5] Nevertheless, the sculptural decoration and the dynamic glimpses [7] of the amplified architecture in the whole façade also weld this masterpiece to the grandiose inventions by Gian Lorenzo Bernini [8] and Pietro da Cortona.

The fountain, whose architectural façade is partially covered by the landscape, enshrines a philosophical dualism. [3] Reminiscent of Bernini’s Palazzo Montecitorio, the Travertine rocks belonging to the marine landscape are an element of transition, which counterposes the severe architecture, symbol of the shaped matter and the water, symbol of unshaped matter. An “allegory of the transience” [5] is thus highlighted by the transformation of the rocks in architecture and by the latter dissolving in nature, following the eternal cycle of the water. [3]

Nicola Salvi, Fontana di Trevi, 1732, Rome, (C) Kevin McGill.

Nicola Salvi, Fontana di Trevi, 1732, Rome, (C) Kevin McGill.

The eternal fame of the Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain was completed by Giovanni Paolo Pannini, [7] but gave Nicola Salvi a great reputation in Europe, inspiring the studies of generations of young architects. [6] Francesco Milizia described it using these words: “This fountain is superb, majestic, luxurious and as a whole of astonishing beauty” [9].

Still today, the Trevi Fountain is one of the most renowned monuments ever, so deeply linked to the Eternal City that, according to an ancient tradition, who throws a coin from behind in that water is destined to come back in Rome.

Newly restored Trevi Fountain on the 1st November 2015

Newly restored Trevi Fountain on the 1st November 2015, still without water before the inauguration.


Newly restored Trevi Fountain on the 1st November 2015

Newly restored Trevi Fountain on the 1st November 2015, still without water before the inauguration.

References

[1]       Rudolf Wittkower, Arte e architettura in Italia, 1600-1750. Torino: Einaudi, 1958.

[2]       Giovanna Curcio, "Lo stato della Chiesa. Roma tra il 1700 e il 1730," in Storia dell'architettura italiana. Il Settecento, Giovanna Curcio and Elisabeth Kieven, Eds. Milano: Electa, 2000, pp. 146-183.

[3]       Elisabeth Kieven, "Alcuni aspetti dell'architettura romana del Settecento," in Il Settecento a Roma, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Palazzo Venezia, 10 novembre 2005 - 26 febbraio 2006)), A. Lo Bianco and A. Negro, Eds. Milano: Silvana Editoriale, 2005, pp. 25-33.

[4]       Sandro Benedetti, L'architettura dell'Arcadia nel Settecento Romano. Roma: Bonsignori Editore, 1997.

[5]       Elisabeth Kieven, "Roma tra il 1730 e il 1758," in Storia dell'architettura italiana. Il Settecento, G. Curcio and E. Kieven, Eds. Milano: Electa, 2000, pp. 184-208.

[6]       Elisabeth Kieven, "Revival del Berninismo durante il Pontificato di Clemente XII," in "Gian Lorenzo Bernini Architetto e l'architettura europea del Sei-Settecento", Atti del convegno del 1981, G. Spagnesi and M. Fagiolo, Eds. Roma: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1984, vol. II, pp. 459-468.

[7]       A. M. Matteucci, "L'architettura negli Stati della Chiesa," in L'architettura del Settecento. Torino: UTET, 1988, pp. 4-60.

[8]       A. Schiavo, La Fontana di Trevi e le altre opere di Nicola Salvi. Roma: Ist. Poligrafico dello Stato, 1956.

[9]       Francesco Milizia, Memorie degli architetti antichi e moderni. Quarta edizione accresciuta e corretta dallo stesso autore. Bassano: a spese Remondini di Venezia, 1785, vol. 2.

[10]    Giovanni Battista Falda, Vedute delle fabbriche, piazze et strade fatte fare nuovam.te in Roma dalla S.ta' di N. S. Ale[s]sandro VII. Roma: Date in luce con dirrettione et cura di Gio. Iacomo Rossi, 1665.

[11]    Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Vedute di Roma disegnate ed incise da Giambattista Piranesi Architetto Veneziano. Roma: Presso l' Autore a Strada Felice nel Palazzo Tomati vicino alla Trinità de' monti, 1839.

[12]     Giovanni Domenico Franzini, Descrittione di Roma antica e moderna […]. Roma: appresso Andrea Fei, 1643. Digitization

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