Tartarughe Fountain

 larger view

Giacomo della Porta, Domenico and Giovanni Fontana, Carlo Maderno, and Bernini are the Roman mas­ters in the gentle art of fountain-making. Giacomo della Porta stands first chronologically, and he has also created the loveliest of the lovely. This is the Tar­tarughe fountain for which the Senate and people of Rome paid over twelve hundred scudi, evidently a large sum at that time for a fountain, as Baglioni men­tions it particularly. Giacomo della Porta dehlighted in rare marbles and for his fountain of the Tartarughe he carved the broad shallow bowl of the classic drinking cup in the centre in bigio morrato fasciato, or veined gray marble, while he made the stem of a mottled yellow marble called Saravezza. The cup stands upon a Carrara base, moulded and carved with decorative shields or escutcheons, from the four corners of which project huge shells of rare beauty and distinction of form carved in different varieties of African marble. It rises from a shallow travertine basin, gracefully shaped and slightly sunk below the level of the present pavement. So far there is nothing to distinguish this fountain from others of its kind except the richness of its marbles and the shape of the shells, but its four bronze figures so harmoniously composed give this design the dignity of a work of art, and make it the most exquisite of Roman fountains. They are by Taddeo Landini, whose early death was a distinct loss to the world of art. These figures are of boys in the most beautiful period of adolescence, their sinuous bodies lean against the swelling stem of the cup, one slender leg of each figure pushed backward so that the foot rests on the toes, preserving the balance, while the other leg, lifted high and bent at the knee, presses its foot upon the head of a bronze dolphin. The torsos lean toward each other in couples, each supporting itself on its elbow so that the right shoulder of the one and the left shoulder of the other come rather close together. The hands of these supporting arms grasp the tails of the dolphins, while the other arms, raised high above the head, push upward with open palms and outspread fingers four bronze tortoises which clamber over the rim of the cup in haste to plunge into the water. Projecting from the under surface of the rim are carved in marble heads of cherubs, so placed that the water which they spout falls in a steady stream between the figures of the boys and is received into the lowest basin.

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