Trevi Fountain, best 1st Fountain in Rome

Trevi Fountain is considered a late Baroque masterpiece, a genuine pearl among hundreds of different fountains in Rome. Trevi Fountain is arguably the best known of the city’s numerous fountains. It was designed by Nicola Salvi and completed by Giuseppe Pannini in 1762. According to legend, those who toss coins into its waters will return to Rome!

Location: Piazza di Trevi, Rome

History of the Trevi Fountain

In the late XVth century, the Piazza di Trevi became the terminal point of Acqua Vergine, an ancient Roman aqueduct built by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa to supply water baths named after him. The aqueduct lay underground for most of its length: it came to the surface near Collegio del Nazzareno, where some of its arches are still visible. It was restored by Pope Nicholas V in 1453 and again in the following century. It ended with a large plain basin designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Pope Urban VIII.

Trevi Fountain

The aqueduct lay underground for the largest of its length: it came to the surface near Collegio del Nazzareno, where some of its arcs are still noticeable. It was renovated in 1453 by Pope Nicholas V and repeatedly in the next centenary. It ended with a large plain basin designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini for Pope Urban VIII. The marble sculptures at the heart of the Trevi Fountain were made in 1759-1762, but they might be based on the 1738 gypsum designs by Giovanni Battista Maini.

The moon shone clearly over Rome, which, in the silence of the night, looks lovely, as if it were inhabited but by the spirits of the great. On her way from the house of a female friend, Corinne left her carriage, and, oppressed with grief, seated herself beside the fount of Trevi, whose abundant cascade falls in the center of Rome. (..) In other cities, it is the role of carriages that the ear requires. In Rome, it is the murmur of this immense fountain, which seems the indispensable accompaniment of the dreamy life led there. Its water is so pure that it has for many ages been named the Virgin Spring.

The form of Corinne was now reflected on its surface. Oswald, who had paused there at the same moment, beheld the enchanting countenance of his love thus mirrored in the wave: at first, it affected him so strangely that he believed himself gazing on her phantom, as his imagination had often conjured up that of his father: he leaned forward, to see it more plainly, and his own features appeared beside those of Corinne. She recognized them, shrieked, rushed towards him, and seized his arm.

Madame de Stael – Corinne or Italy – 1833 English edition

Pope Clement XII was personally involved in choosing the design of the Trevi Fountain and its decoration. It is interesting to note that Nicola Salvi’s project that he endorsed is totally free of religious connotations. The central statue portrays Oceanus, but only those familiar with traditional iconography can tell that it does not show Neptune, the pagan God of Sea. The Pope reintroduced the game of lotto to finance the construction of the fountain.

The Fontana di Trevi is not without marginal Rococo features such as Neptune’s large rocaille shell, but Salvi’s architecture is remarkably classical. Taking up an idea of Pietro da Cortona, who had first thought of combining palace front and fountain, Salvi had the courage and vision to wed the classical triumphal arch with its allegorical and mythological figures palace front. He, too, filled the larger part of the square with natural rock formations bathed by the fountain’s gushing waters. The Rococo features in the Fontana di Trevi are entirely subordinated to a strong Late Baroque, classical design.

Rudolf Wittkower – Art and Architecture in Italy 1600-1750 Penguin Books 1958

The fountain’s overall design resembles a Roman triumphal arch, particularly of Arco di Costantino, the restoration of which was promoted by Pope Clement XII. The reference to ancient Rome was emphasized by the two tritons acting as horse tamers. They are evocative of Castor and Pollux, the twin demigods sons of Mars who protected the Romans.

Nicola Salvi had to face a significant difficulty when he designed the project for the Trevi Fountain. The water of Acqua Vergine ran just above the ground level. In 1627 at Piazza di Spagna Pietro Bernini, Gian Lorenzo’s father, placed Fontana Della Barcaccia, which was supplied by Acqua Vergine, in the lowest possible position. Salvi emphasized the lower part of the Trevi Fountain’s decor to attract the viewer’s attention; the arc does not contain house water spouts.

Statues of the Trevi fountain

Oceanus

Pietro Bracci was the most skilled sculptor of his time, but he did not have Michelangelo or Bernini’s charisma. He generally worked on statues for funerary monuments that were designed by someone else. Oceanus in the Trevi Fountain stands on a precarious balance as if he were dancing the minute.

(left) Wealth Autumn by Francesco Queirolo (1735); (center) Amenity by Francesco Pincellotti (1735); (right) Health by Filippo Della Valle (1759-1762) in a side niche

The four statues at the top of the Trevi Fountain were completed by 1735. At that time, Pope Clement XII was almost entirely blind. He did not notice that the sculptors had portrayed women in déshabillé, which was very much in line with the rather frivolous XVIIIth century society, but not with Roman’s traditional Church view on nudity. Pope Benedict XIV and Pope Clement XIII, his successors, ensured that the statues added during their pontificates portrayed fully clothed women.

Trevi Fountain myth

(left) The Discovery of the Spring by Andrea Bergondi; (right) Agrippa Orders the Construction of the Aqueduct by Giovan Battista Grossi

One of the two reliefs portrays a young woman indicating the spring to thirsty soldiers: it explains the legal name (Aqua Virgo/Acqua Vergine) given to the water carried by the aqueduct. Acqua Vergine was not a major Roman aqueduct because its source was not very far from the city, and its construction did not require the imposing arches, which are shown in the other relief.

More often, awestruck Rome travelers throw in the Trevi Fountain more than one coin in hopes to find the one and come back to Rome again. The legend says that you should throw the coin in the Trevi Fountain with closed eyes with your right hand over the left shoulder. Tourists in Fontana di Trevi leave about 1,700/2,000 Euro every day, which is a very nice revenue, almost a million Euro per year.

(left/centre) Plants by Francesco Pincellotti and Giusppe Poddi; (right) coat of arms of Monsignor Giancostanzo Caracciolo di Santobono

Inauguration of Fontana di Trevi

The formal inauguration of Fontana di Trevi took place in 1762. Pope Benedict XIV rewarded in an unusual way Monsignor Giancostanzo Caracciolo di Santobono who was in charge of completing the fountain: he allowed him to have his coat of arms placed among the rocks on the right side of the Trevi Fountain.

(In the XVIIIth century) foreigners streamed to Rome in greater numbers than ever before, and artists from all over Europe were still magically drawn to the Eternal City. But the character of these pilgrimages slowly changed. Artists no longer came attracted by the lure of splendid opportunities as in the days of Bernini and Cortona; more and more they came only to study antiquity at the fountain-head.

Rudolf Wittkower

Authors of the Trevi Fountain in chronological order

The work of numerous artists was necessary for the magnificent result of the Trevi Fountain; we list all authors and their work in chronological order:

  • 1692 – Main Design Authors: Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Nicola Salvi, Sketches of the sculptural complex: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
  • 1732 – Classic façade of Roman order: Nicola Salvi
  • 1735 – Niche behind Neptune: Workers of the constructor Mateo Caramaschi
  • Shield of Pope Clement XII:
    • 1735 – Central Body by Giussepe Poddi and Francesco Pincellotti
    • 1736 – Ornamental angels: Paolo Benaglia
  • Sculptures at the attic:
    • 1736 – The Abundance of Fruits, by Agostino Corsini
    • 1736 – The fertility of the fields, by Bernardo Ludovisi
    • 1736 – Wealth Autumn, by Francesco Queirolo
    • 1736 – The Lawn of Public Parks and Gardens, by Bartolomeo Pincellotti
    • 1736 – Floral motifs for the four allegories mentioned above, Alessandro Doria
  • 1742 – Rocks for the construction of the cliff, seat of the main figures of Neptune and the tritons: Giuseppe Poddi and Francesco Pincelotti, where they are shaped and carved by different plants and animals
  • 1744 – Shell that forms Neptune’s chariot and two snakes (now lost): Giuseppe Poddi and Francesco Pincelotti
  • 1744 – Inscription in the attic to Pope Clement XII: Heirs of Francesco Teschi
  • 1744 – Edge of the fountain, made with Carrara marble
  • 1744 – Dedication to Pope Clement XII, in the attic with letters inscribed in the lead, by the heirs of Francesco Tedeschi
  • 1762 – Neptune, newts, and sea horses: Pietro Bracci
  • 1762 – Fertility and Health (niches): Filippo della Valle
  • 1762 – High relief sculpture of Agrippa: Giovan Battista Grossi
  • 1762 – High relief sculpture of the Virgin of Water: Andrea Bergondi