Piazza della Repubblica and the fountain of the Naiads, Rome
Title: Fountain of the Naiads
Artist: Alessandro Guerrieri. Completed by Mario Rutelli
Location: Piazza della Repubblica Medium: Marble Date: 1888 originally completed in 1901 with addition in 1911
The former name of the piazza, Piazza dell’Esedra, still very common today, originates in the large exedra of the baths of Diocletian, which gives the piazza its shape. The porticos around the piazza, two twin buildings built in 1887–98 by Gaetano Koch in the neoclassical style, were in memory of the ancient buildings on the same sites, while the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri on the piazza is based on a wing of the baths (with its architect Michelangelo, using the tepidarium as one of the wings of its spacious Greek cross plan).
The fountain one of the largest in Rome was designed and constructed in many stages. The base of the fountain dates back to before Italian troops took Rome in 1870. Pope Pius IX originally had the fountain built to commemorate the construction of a new aqueduct named Acqua Pia-Marcia after the ancient Aqua Marcia built in 144 BC and also named after the pope himself. A few years later the new Italian government decided to refurbish the whole area. The fountain was increased in size and moved about 80 meters to its current location. At this time the fountain had no statues decorating it and was a simple structure with a series of basins at different levels. The fountain was generally thought to be missing something and when German emperor William II visited Rome four plaster lions were created by Alessandro Guereieri to decorate the four corners of the fountain. Many citizens of Rome were displeased by this so-called fake solution and the city council of Rome decided to commission real statues to decorate the fountain. For this purpose in 1901 they commissioned Mario Rutelli, a Sicilian artist, to design four statues to decorate the corners of the fountain. Rutelli designed the four statues that can now be seen at the four corners of the fountain. The figures now represent four water nymphs: the Naiad of the Oceans, the Naiad of the Rivers, the Naiad of the Lakes and the Naiad of the Underground Waters, each one featured with an animal that represented their respective environments. The Naiad of the Oceans is represented with a sea horse, the Naiad of the Lakes is represented with a swan, the Naiad of the Rivers is represented with a water snake, and the Naiad of the Underground Waters is represented with a reptile. Rutelli caused quite a stir by basing the model of the Naiads on two famous twin prostitutes in Rome. He also sculpted the figures nude.
Nobody imagined what the artist had conceived, and when the statues were finally set into place the population was shocked by the result. Now on the fountain stood four completely naked young female figures, whose bodies, soaked by the water that gushed from a large nozzle at the back, glittered in the sun in very lascivious attitudes!
Initially, an iron railing surrounded the fountain, a protective measure once adopted for several city monuments. This did not discourage crowds of young men from gathering on this spot, with the only purpose of admiring the shapely Naiads. The conservative wing, faithful to the old papal government, complained and battled to have them taken away, in the name of morality and decency.
However, the city council decided that the figures would stay. This still left the center of the fountain bare. Rutelli set out to prepare a figure for the center piece of the fountain. He prepared a rather bizarre group that featured three human figures, a dolphin and an octopus, tangled together in a wrestle. During Rome’s International Exposition, the first model made of mortar was set on top of the fountain, waiting to be replaced by the final version in bronze. However, the group received many sarcastic comments, and was nicknamed “the fish fry of Termini.” Rutelli was then asked to design a new figure and the result was the single male figure embracing a dolphin. This received a much warmer welcome than his original model. With the addition of the final bronze figure in the center, the fountain had reached its final and current design.