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Three views of the Triton Fountain | by Dog Company
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Three views of the Triton Fountain

Bernini's baroque Triton Fountain (Italian Fontana del Tritone) is located in Piazza Barberini, Rome, near the entrance to the Palazzo Barberini (Now the museum, Galeria de Arte Antica), which Bernini helped redesign for his patron Maffeo Barberini, who had become pope as Urban VIII. It is a few blocks from Borromini's San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane In the fountain, which Bernini executed of travertine in 1642–43, an over-lifesize muscular Triton, a minor sea god of ancient Greco-Roman legend, is depicted as a merman kneeling on an opened scallop shell. He throws back his head to raise a conch to his lips: from it a jet of water spurts, formerly rising dramatically higher than it does today. The fountain has a base of four dolphins that entwine the papal tiara and the heraldic Barberini bees in their scaly tails. The Tritone, first of Bernini's fountains, was to provide water from the Acqua Felice aqueduct that Urban had restored, in a dramatic celebration. It was Bernini's last major commission from his great patron.


At the Triton Fountain, Urban and Bernini brought a garden feature familiar from villas decisively to a public, wholly urban setting for the first time. All the previous fountains of Rome had been passive basins for the reception of public water or had garden settings in the urban villas.


The triumphant passage from Ovid's Metamorphoses book I, evoking godlike control over the waters and describing the draining away of the universal Deluge, which Urban set Bernini to illustrate, was well-known to all literate Roman contemporaries:


Already Triton, at his call, appears

Above the waves; a Tyrian robe he wears;

And in his hand a crooked trumpet bears.

The soveraign bids him peaceful sounds inspire,

And give the waves the signal to retire.

His writhen shell he takes; whose narrow vent

Grows by degrees into a large extent,

Then gives it breath; the blast with doubling sound,

Runs the wide circuit of the world around:

The sun first heard it, in his early east,

And met the rattling ecchos in the west.

The waters, list'ning to the trumpet's roar,

Obey the summons, and forsake the shore.

—free translation by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al..

Legend has it that any visitor who throws a coin into the water will have guaranteed their return to Rome.


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Taken on March 20, 2005