QUERCIA, Jacopo della
(b. ca. 1367, Quercia Grossa, d. 1438, Siena)

Fonte Gaia

Piazza del Campo, Siena

In December 1408 Jacopo, having returned to Siena, signed a contract to build a new fountain in the Piazza del Campo, the central space of the city: the prestigious commission indicates that he was recognized as Siena's leading sculptor. The Fonte Gaia (Santa Maria della Scala, Siena; the version in the Piazza del Campo is a copy) took its name ('fountain of joy') from the festivity that greeted the arrival of water when it was first brought to this hilltop site in the mid-14th century.

The Fonte Gaia was dedicated to the Virgin, traditional protectress of the city, and its iconography was intended to harmonize with and expand on the themes of good government found in the 14th-century frescoes in the Palazzo Pubblico opposite. The contract was modified in January 1409 to specify a greater number of figures and an increased payment. A brown ink drawing on vellum, preserved in two sections (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Victoria and Albert Museum, London) details the new plan. The fountain was to include reliefs of the Virgin and Child (this central section is missing from the drawing) surrounded by the four Cardinal Virtues, Faith, the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Annunciate. Two free-standing statues, the Rea Silvia and the Acca Larentia, the real and adopted mothers of the twins Romulus and Remus, legendary founders of Siena, were to be placed at the corners.

The scheme was altered yet again in 1415. The fountain as it is now consists of a large rectangular basin, with multiple spouts, surrounded by low walls on three sides, the remaining portion open to allow for direct access to the piazza. The interior of the walls is decorated with shallow niches containing large-scale figures in high relief of the Virgin and Child, flanked by Angels and by the Theological and Cardinal Virtues and Wisdom, plus scenes of the Creation of Adam and the Expulsion from the Garden and at the corners, as originally planned, the Rea Silvia and the Acca Larentia.

Progress was extremely slow. Jacopo began to carve the figures in 1414, but did not finish until 1419. The unusually porous material used for the fountain has deteriorated, making it hard to determine the style and chronology of specific parts. But the sections generally agreed to be later - the free-standing figures and the Genesis scenes, Jacopo's first attempt at narrative sculpture - reveal his growing confidence.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.