Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi-rte

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Bernini, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, 1651
By ELIZABETH ELLIS

The commission of the design for the fountain meant to be at the center of the Piazza Navona furthered the intense rivalry between Borromini and Bernini. Pope Innocent X asked Borromini to engineer a new pipeline, redirecting the water from the Fontana di Trevi commissioned by Pope Urban VIII. The pope said that if Borromini could redirect the water, the commission for the design of the fountain would essentially be his, even while the Pope would hold a small competition for the commission. Upon learning about the engineering feat he would have to perform, Borrimini decided to base his design of the idea of all four rivers of the known world meeting in the fountain; the Ganges, the Danube, the Nile, and the Plata in South America. 

However, once Borromini presented the design, the pope was less than impressed. The drawing that Borromini is credited with creating was so uninspiring that some experts maintain that it was not his drawing at all. Looking to get back into the new Pope's favor, Bernini sent in his design for the fountain. His design featured the human personifications of major rivers of the four known continents of the world, even though it had been Borromini's idea to feature the four rivers coming together with a tall obelisk in the center with a dove on top. The Pope was so moved and excited by Bernini's plans that he immediately gave Bernini the commission. 

In Bernini's design, the four corners of the fountain each represented one of the rivers. In one corner there is the Ganges, represented by a man with an oar to represent the ability to move across the land on river with a dragon swimming in the water beneath him. In the next corner, there is Danube, represented by a Christian style coat of arms, a sword, and a horse emerging from the crevice underneath the obelisk. In the next corner, there is the Plata. This is likely the most recognizably different styled men. His head is shaped almost like that of a child, with his hair shaved and a curiously formed beard. He looks above and seems to almost shield himself from the snake looming, while gold coins are scattered below him to represent the wealth of the New World. 

Lastly there is the corner of the Nile. The man is pulling a cloth over his head to represent that the source of the Nile was unknown. There is a palm tree and a lion crouching in the crevice in the water. The obelisk in the center pushes up seemingly endlessly into the sky when standing at the base with a dove perched on top with an olive branch in its beak. 

Bernini was able to use his fountain to get back into the favor in grand fashion: 3,000 scudi, almost a tenth of the fountain's total cost. The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi was the climax project of both Bernini and Borromini's careers, rocketing Bernini back into popularity and essentially finishing Borromini's career.

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