FONTANA, Domenico
(b. 1543, Melide, d. 1607, Napoli)

Fontana dell'Acqua Felice (Moses Fountain)

Travertine, marble
Piazza di San Bernardo, Rome

Roman Baroque fountains stand out as a novel reworking of a venerable civic tradition, especially when compared with fountains produced elsewhere in Italy. The major factor contributing to the new prominence of fountain design in Rome was a practical one: the restoration of the city's extensive network of ancient aqueducts. From the reign of Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) onwards, most pontiffs paid attention to the city's water supply, both out of necessity and in emulation of their imperial predecessors. Some twenty fountains were erected between the reigns of Gregory XIII (1572-1585) and Clement VIII (1592-1602)

The Acqua Felice was built for Sixtus V by the brothers Giovanni and Domenico Fontana. Its design was adapted from Roman triumphal arches, complete with papal arms and a laudatory Latin inscription. Antique columns of coloured marble divide the main body into three fields, beneath which stands basins flanked by Egyptian and medieval stone lions. Although the quality of the sculpture is mediocre, its iconographic programme is noteworthy, for instead of mythological themes, biblical personages are portrayed. The central figure is a rather ungainly Moses by Leonardo Sormani (d. 1589) and Prospero Antichi (d. 1592); the lateral bays contain reliefs showing Aaron leading the Israelites to water and Joshua leading them across the Jordan with dry feet, carved by a group of minor sculptor.