St. Peters Fountain

On the top of the structure were semicircular bronze ornaments worked a jour, that is, in open relief, without background, and crowned by the monogram of Christ. In the centre of the tabernacle and under the dome stood a bronze pine-cone. This fountain stood, not in the Piazza of St. Peters, but in the atrium, or the square portico, which stood in front and on the right hand of the old basilica.

The history of the construction and destruction of this beautiful fountain of the dark ages is an excellent example of the artistic and architectural methods of those times. Arts and crafts had already sunk to so low a depth that there were no longer any men in Rome capable of casting or carving statues like those of former days, and marble had ceased to be imported into the city. Consequently all monuments or other artistic structures were made up of figures in marble or bronze, panels, columns, friezes, and similar decorations, stolen from the productions of the great days of the Empire. The Arch of Constantine, erected in 315, is composed to such an extent of columns and sculpture from a Triumphal Arch of Trajan that it was surnamed AEsops Crow; and the Column of Phocas (608), the last triumphal monument to be erected in imperial Rome, consists of a shaft and capital surmounted by a bronze figure, all taken from earlier as well as different structures. Pope Symmachus was only following the established methods when, to ornament his porphyry columns (themselves probably part of some classic temple), he took four of the golden peacocks which had been originally cast for a decoration to the railing of the walk surrounding the Tomb of Hadrian, and, furthermore, placed as the centrepiece a great pine-cone taken from the Baths of Agrippa. These pine-cones were a customary feature of the classic fountain, as the scales of the cone present natural and graceful outlets for the falling water. Symmachuss fountain was one of the beauties of Rome in the days when the great Gothic King Theodoric ruled and loved the city. Three hundred years later it captivated the fancy of Charlemagne, crowned Emperor in St. Peters on Christmas Day, 800; and the fountain afterward erected before his great cathedral at Aix is ornamented with a huge pine-cone like the one which he and his Franks had seen in the exquisite fountain of St. Peters.

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