Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Too sexy for my square: the "Fontana delle Naiadi"

Right now this charming fountain in the middle of Piazza della Repubblica must cope with the mercilessness of time that ruined its bronze figures, but back in the days of its inauguration it was considered sexy enough to cause a scandal.
The square was built over the exedra of the close-by Baths of Diocletian, outlining its shape.
The beautiful portico that embraces the square is a tribute to the original location, as it wants to mimic its scenographic majesty. It was designed by Gaetano Koch around 1888.
The sculpted groups that you can spot on the frontons of the buildings, dated 1898, represent the Olympic Gods as allegories: "Labor" ("Work") featuring Minerva and Ceres, "Voluntas" ("Will") with Mercury and Vulcan and "Patria" ("Motherland") with the personifications of Amor Patrio and History--

--I talked already about the attempt to redesign the quartiere Esquilino in the XIX century to make it attractive to the middle class when I dealt with the Acquario Romano.
The Fountain of the Naiads is part of the same project: an old, boring fountain had to be made modern and frisky, and the Sicilian sculptor Mario Rutelli was commissioned with it.
Rutelli resumed the characters of the "Naiads", the nymphs of sweet water, from ancient mithology, and made them in delightful bronze, to visualize the charm of times:
The beautiful nymphs were accompanied by a marine animal to evoke their roles: a swan for the naiad of lakes, a monstruous fish for the naiad of rivers, a horse for the naiad of oceans (a nereid, then?!) and finally a dragon for the underground waters.

The decorated fountain was inaugurated in 1901, and sure the poor sculptor wasn't expecting his tribute to classicity to be considered scandalous.
In fact, what Romans saw in the middle of the square over 100 years ago, was nothing but four naked women in naughty poses, clustered to some beasts of sort.
The Catholics of the time, still bothered by the unification of Italy and the fall of the Papal States, saw it as an insult to the Pope and the public decency, as all the young boys from the other quartieri gathered around to look at the "naked chicks" to whistle and dream.
The fountain was covered up at first, then a fence was added to keep the visitors far from it, but in the end, despite the harsh critics and the opposition, the fine work of Rutelli was recognized, and the Naiads were finally free to shine under the Roman sun.

Touched by this controversy, though, the artist had to face another challenge, where he was motivated to prove his worth and show off all of his skills to silence those caustic Romans once for all.
The fountain still looked a bit "empty", so Rutelli started to work on a sculpted group to decorate its center; he came up with the idea of humankind fighting against the primitive forces: a group of three tritons fighting against marine creatures, to make pendant with the theme of the Naiads.
The model for the sculpted group was placed on the fountain in 1911, and people promptly made fun of it, nicknaming it "fritto misto" (a variety of battered and fried fishes, a very popular dish).
Rutelli didn't take it very well, the group was removed and a simpler statue was put in its place in 1914, a man fighting against a fish, representing Glaucus:
Romans still managed to make fun of it: a popular satire of the times talked about "a big fountain" in the square, where you can see "four naked, doggie style women and a man in the middle, acting as their husband", who's so very handsome as he "sprays on their butts from his fish"--
In case you're curious, in the middle of Piazza Vittorio, you can still spot the original "fritto misto", as it was placed there in 1913:
--It does look like a fritto misto!

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