Fontana del Tritone, meaning, the Triton Fountain, is located in Piazza Barberini, in Rome, its backdrop being ensured by the National Gallery of Ancient Art (more precisely, by one of the palaces which are home to the gallery’s collections, namely, Palazzo Barberini). The fountain is one of the most exquisite works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, outstanding by the dramatic air of the figure represented in the center of the structure. It is not the only fountain designed by Bernini in Rome, since the artist’s prize list is also complemented by other similar (though, perhaps, not as reputed) free standing decorative structures, such as Fontana delle Api, located, it too, in Piazza Barberini. It remains, however, the first fountain Bernini has ever designed for the capital of Italy.

Bernini was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII to do the job, as crowning of the wider project which involved the restoration of the Acqua Felice aqueduct, and the fountain was, thus, designed and constructed in a relatively short period of time, between 1642 and 1643. The triton is depicted holding a conch above his head, resting, at his turn, on the fins of four dolphins represented as if ready to plunge in the water collected by the basin at the base of the fountain. In the past, the conch held by the triton used to sprout a much more spectacular and higher water jet, which is not the case today. A particularly interesting debate refers to Bernini’s possible inspiration in conceiving the posture of the triton from one of the books of Ovid’s masterpiece, Metamorphoses, more precisely, a chapter in which the poet describes the taming of the waters following the Flood. The quasi-pagan theme is complemented by Christian motifs, such as the papal tiara and the insignia of the Barberini family (of which Maffeo Barberini was born, later elected pope under the name of Urban VIII, the very pope who commissioned the construction of the fountain).

All in all, the free standing Triton Fountain remains an imperative stop on the sightseeing tour of Rome. It’s not only the artistic merits of the works which recommend it as such, but also the fact that, just like the Trevi Fountain, Fontana del Tritone is haloed by a legend that says that he / she who throws a coin in the water will most certainly return once again to Rome.

Fontana del Tritone (Triton Fountain)
Piazza Barberini, Rome, Italy