Situated in Rome’s historic center, Barberini Square takes its name from the nearby Palazzo Barberini, a sophisticated 17th century palace currently housing the National Gallery of Ancient Art and the Italian Institute of Numismatics, once the Barberini family residence.
In Rome’s Piazza Barberini visitors can admire Bernini’s Triton Fountain; a travertine masterpiece commissioned by Pope Urban VIII (born Maffeo Barberini) and constructed between 1642-1643. The aim was to introduce a sculptural fountain in a completely urban setting to from the Acqua Felice aqueduct.
This vigorous representation of Triton is one of Bernini’s most beloved and original works. The messenger of the sea, as Triton is referred to, is a minor god belonging to the Greek tradition, son of Poseidon and Amphitrite. Triton is a merman, human down to the waist with the tail of a fish; Bernini’s Triton presents profoundly human features, he is youthful and strong, he kneels upon an open bivalve seashell that sits on the intertwined tails of four dolphins coming together to form a pedestal, his head is thrown back, his arms are raised and his hands lay a gnarled conch-shell on his lips. As the legend narrates, Triton would play his twisted conch-shell as a trumpet determining either the enraging or calming of the waters. The trumpet’s roar is portrayed by Bernini with a powerful jet of water spurting from the conch, initially rising much more spectacularly and dramatically than it does today. Two identical papal emblems displaying three bees, the heraldic symbol of the Barberini family dynasty, are located on the statue’s base.
At the corner of Barberini Square (visible via our live webcam), where the piazza meets via Veneto, a smaller, more modest piece by Bernini can also be found, it’s called the Fountain of the Bees and it takes the shape of a bivalve shell. The original work dates back to 1944, it was the last piece assigned to the artist by Urban VIII and was intended as a drinking trough for horses. The small design pays homage to the Pope, attentive observers will, in fact, notice the presence of three bees purposely underlining the connection to the Barberini family. The fountain, that was initially located at the corner of Palazzo Soderini, was disassembled 1880 and stored until 1915; when the decision was made to bring it back to Rome’s Piazza Barberini most of the pieces had gone missing. A copy was soon commissioned to artist Adolfo Apolloni, who replicated Bernini’s design applying small changes including the use of travertine instead of the original lunar marble. The new fountain was inaugurated on January 28th 1916.
Our live webcam in Rome’s Barberini Square will bring you up close and personal with the mighty Triton, take a look!
Did you know that in 1932 the Triton Fountain in Barberini Square underwent its very first restoration? It was an impactful intervention that removed about 12 cm of residue that had, over the years, deposited on its surface; the result notably altered the fountain’s aspect so much so Romans firmly believed it had been replaced with a copy - a conviction echoed by the national press as well – and demanded the return of the original!