Four rivers fountain, Piazza Navona, Rome

(1648-1651)
   The Four Rivers Fountain is the work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who received the commission from Pope Innocent X. Placed in front of the Church of Sant' Agnese and a few steps away from the pope's family palace, it incorporates an Egyptian obelisk that references the pagan era. Allegorical representations of the rivers Plata, Nile, Danube, and Ganges seated around the obelisk speak of the spread of Christianity over the four corners of the world and its triumph over paganism. The dove that surmounts the obelisk, one of the pope's emblematic symbols, signifies that triumph is achieved through his wise leadership. The sound and movement created by the water gushing from the irregular rocks that support the obelisk grant a celebratory mood to the work. The fountain was a major feat of engineering because the obelisk is only held by the corners, the rest floating in midair, an element Bernini would later apply to his Cathedra Petri (1657-1666) at the Vatican, the reliquary that holds the throne of St. Peter.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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