All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in August 2009.
Piazza delle Quattro Fontane (Book 2) (Day 2) (Map A3) (View B7) (Rione Trevi) (Rione Monti)
The plate shows the church of San Carlo and the four fountains built during the pontificate of Pope Sixtus V (1585-90) at the crossing between two newly opened streets: Strada Felice (after the name of Sixtus V, Felice Peretti) from SS.TrinitÓ dei Monti to S. Maria Maggiore and Strada Pia from Porta Pia to Palazzo del Quirinale.
The location is excellent for observing a characteristic of the new straight streets opened in the second half of the XVIth century; they had at their ends something (a church, an obelisk, a gate or a large statue) which attracted the attention of the viewer; in the case of these two streets and making reference to the time of Sixtus V, Strada Felice had at its ends SS. TrinitÓ dei Monti and an obelisk and Strada Pia had the gate designed by Michelangelo and two large statues placed by Sixtus V in Piazza del Quirinale.
The views were improved in the following centuries by placing obelisks opposite SS. TrinitÓ dei Monti and in Piazza del Quirinale and by building the monumental rear fašade of S. Maria Maggiore.
The view is taken from the green dot in the small 1748 map here below. In the description below the plate Vasi made reference to: 1) Le Quattro Fontane; 2) S. Carlo; 3) Palazzo Albani; 4) S. Maria Maggiore (rear fašade). The small map shows also 5) Palazzo Galloppi; 6) SS. Anna e Gioacchino. The dotted line in the small map delineates the border between Rione Trevi (left) and Rione Monti (right).
In 1771 Vasi depicted the view towards S. Maria Maggiore from Quattro Fontane in a larger etching.
Basically the view is unchanged; however (because of today's traffic) it is no longer advisable to follow a suggestion made by Giovanni Pietro Bellori in his 1672 guide to Rome. He recommended visiting this spot to breathe its fine air and to enjoy the ponentino, the western breeze which at sunset mitigates the heat of Rome's summer days.
Le Quattro Fontane
One of the first decisions taken by Pope Sixtus V was to improve the city's supply of water; he built an aqueduct which brought water to the hills of Esquilino, Viminale and Quirinale; it was completed in 1586 and it ended near Strada Pia.
The next step needed to reach the pope's objective was to distribute the water through a net of public fountains; many of them such as those in Piazza dei Monti and in Piazza d'Aracoeli were directly built by the Papal State; others were built by private citizens in return for the right to a water supply for their own properties. The latter procedure was followed for the four fountains at the corners of Piazza delle Quattro Fontane; the lack of official records has made it difficult to ascertain what their statues represent.
The only statue which is directly connected with Pope Sixtus V is that at the north-western corner; it portrays a reclining woman holding three pears (a heraldic symbol of the pope); next to her the water flows from three mountains (another heraldic symbol). The identification with Fidelity was suggested by the presence of a dog, whereas that with Diana by a small moon on her hair. A more comprehensive theory which explains the meaning of all four statues says that they are the equivalent of Bernini's later Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi; in the form of a nymph or of a river god, the statues are meant to represent generic rivers of the four parts of the world. This theory is conceptually supported by the fact that there is a broad alignment between the statues and the four cardinal points.
Two of the fountains have in the background an elaborate stucco tree; this was added at a later period when the fountains were included into large buildings (S. Carlo and Palazzo Galloppi); the trees were meant to be a reminder of the gardens which once stood behind the fountains.
The she-wolf near the supposed statue of the Tiber was added in the XXth century to support this identification.
S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane
S. Carlo is also known as San Carlino (the small Carlo) because the church is said not to exceed the size of one of the pillars supporting the dome of S. Pietro; the comparison is probably due to the fact that the decoration of the pillars by Gian Lorenzo Bernini was contemporary to the construction of the church.
S. Carlo was the first and the last work by Francesco Borromini, Bernini's great rival. In 1634, when he was asked by the Spanish Trinitarians to design for them a monastery and a church in a small property near Quattro Fontane, Borromini had already a certain amount of experience in the construction of buildings, but he had never acted on his own; he first worked as assistant to his uncle Carlo Maderno and later on to Bernini in the construction of nearby Palazzo Barberini. He saw the opportunity which was given to him by this commission to the point that he preferred not to be paid for his work.
The interior of the church was completed by 1640 whereas the exterior was left unfinished for many years.
Francesco Borromini was held in low regard during Neoclassicism and all through the XIXth century; yet his works show an in-depth knowledge of the ancient monuments which the architect used to develop new designs. The elliptical dome of S. Carlino was decorated with coffers which the ancient Romans used to lighten the weight of vaults: in the case of this dome they are purely decorative; their shape is octagonal as in Terme di Diocleziano or in Basilica di Massenzio; Borromini inserted among them coffers having the shape of the Trinitarian cross.
Confronted with a very tight budget, Borromini made use of his ingenuity and of his mastering of stucco (see also his chapel in Palazzo di Propaganda Fide). Because of his practical experience Borromini was able to personally follow all aspects of the construction and decoration of the church; according to a chronicle written by a Trinitarian father Borromini could teach their trade to bricklayers, stuccoists, carpenters, stone cutters and smiths.
The cost was in part borne by Cardinal Francesco Barberini, nephew of Pope Urban VIII, to whom a little chapel is dedicated.
The lower part of the fašade was built between 1664 and 1667 and is a sort of summary of Borromini's leading ideas in architecture: a penchant for convex and concave lines, the use of angels as an architectonic element, the design of novel shapes for niches and windows, very elaborate mouldings, couples of columns at the sides of the entrance.
Unfortunately the narrowness of the street does not allow a proper observation of the high fašade; a few yards away along the same street and a few years later, Bernini built S. Andrea al Quirinale and he took into more account this factor by designing a lower fašade.
The fašade was completed by Bernardo Castelli, a nephew of Borromini, who followed the initial design of his uncle.
The Cloister of the Monastery
The small monastery adjoining the church has a tiny cloister where Borromini proved again his ingenuity in designing novel shapes as the right/reverse columns of the balustrade show.
The Order of the Trinitarians was founded in 1198 with the primary objective of ransoming the Christians who had fallen into Muslim hands; this objective is clearly shown in a mosaic near S. Maria in Domnica. The Order was reorganized in the late XVIth century but after a few years it split along "national" lines, in the sense that there were Spanish Trinitarians and French Trinitarians.
A letter written by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762) to a friend shows that not everybody was glad to be ransomed. Lady Montagu was the wife of the English Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire: she lived for two years in Constantinople where she happened to be acquainted with the wife of an important pacha. This lady revealed that she was a Spanish woman belonging to a noble family. The ship she was travelling on with her brothers was captured by Algerian corsairs. She was brought to Constantinople and she ended in the harem of a young pacha. A few years later her family was able to trace her and sent an appropriate ransom; her master told her she was free to go, but the woman knew that the high and thick walls of a nunnery were waiting for her in Spain and she preferred to stay with the pacha who married her.
Palazzo Albani is today known as Palazzo del Drago because it was bought in 1858 by Queen Maria Cristina of Spain for her daughter Milagros who was the wife of Filippo Del Drago; today the palace belongs to Lady Domietta del Drago. The original building was designed by Domenico Fontana for the Mattei di Paganica; it was enlarged after 1719 by Alessandro Specchi and Filippo Barigioni for Carlo Albani, prince of Soriano and nephew of Pope Clement XI.
SS. Anna e Gioacchino
In the XVIIIth century there were at least seven monasteries aligned along Strada Pia. Almost at the same time as the construction of S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, the Carmelites built next to it a small monastery and a church dedicated to SS. Anna e Gioacchino. The church was inside the monastery and it did not have a fašade, although it had a direct access from the street. In 1846 the monastery and the church were acquired by the Belgian Seminar which still makes use of part of the monastery. The church houses the tombs of several Belgian soldiers who served in the Papal Army and fell at Mentana in 1867 during the pontificate of Pope Pius IX.
In the early XVIIIth century Palazzo Galloppi which stood opposite the monastery was largely modified with two new portals which are similar to that designed by Borromini for the monastery. The name of the palace is based on an indication by Giovan Battista Nolli in his 1748 map of Rome. It is also known as Palazzo Volpi di Misurata because it was bought in 1939 by Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, a businessman and diplomat who made a fortune with the early electric power plants; in 1920 he was nominated Count of Misurata, a town in today's Lybia; being a very recent aristocrat he placed his newly designed coat of arms on one of the portals.
Excerpts from Giuseppe Vasi 1761 Itinerary related to this page:
Next plate in Book 2: Piazza Barberini
Next step in Day 2 itinerary: Chiesa di S. Andrea Apostolo e Noviziato de' Padri Gesuiti
Next step in your tour of Rione Trevi: Palazzo Barberini
Next step in your tour of Rione Monti: Chiesa di S. Bernardo alle Terme