The Fountain of Neptune

April 28, 2011 / Art & Archaeology
Bologna, Emilia-Romagna
If you were Bolognese, you’d be used to it, pass it every day on the way to market, lean against the edge of it, never give it a second thought.

But the fountain of Neptune in Bologna’s main square does come as a surprise to visitors because of the four lounging ladies around the base and the alpha-male Neptune who dominates the eponymous square.

Lactating nereids were popular in Italy in the mid-16th century, a manifestation of the high Mannerist style. Neptune’s fountain was commissioned to celebrate the newly appointed Pope Pious IV, Giovanni Angelo di Medici; architect Tomasso Laureti completed his work by 1565. Two years later Jean de Boulogne added his muscled giant, earning himself ever afterwards the nickname ‘Gianbologna’.

Legend has it that the sculptor walked twice around the fountain considering what figure should rest on the central pedestal; honouring that story, even today, students walk twice anticlockwise around the fountain before they take an exam, just for luck. But the fountain has a practical side too; market sellers through the ages washed their goods in the water in the beautiful curved basins.

And when there were complaints from the clergy that Neptune’s hand should surely cover his modesty, the new pope paid tribute to the earthy, rich culture of the city – ‘For Bologna, it is alright’. And so it is…

Penny Ewles-Bergeron

by Penny Ewles-Bergeron

Author, artist… celebrating the many good things in Naples.

7 Responses to “The Fountain of Neptune”

  1. Valorie

    I love, love, love Bologna and love the fountain of Neptune! Thanks for some interesting history that I did not know. Also, love the Pope’s comment! ;-)

  2. Sebastiano

    I love bologna too. A slice or 2 of Americano cheese makes it nice. ;-)

  3. Kathleen Nargi . Mc Cabeabe

    You forgot one important part of Neptune!!. If you stand a certain way you can see how endowed Neptune is in his manhood. The pope really got pissed over that.
    We went to a wonderful wedding in Bologna and our italian friends told about that. We also visited the seven churches off the square near the statue of Neptune. .
    Nice article.
    kathy nargi mccabe

  4. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    Thanks for your comments. Bologna is a very feisty city and this piece of statuary does sum that up. We thoroughly enjoyed our recent visit and plan to go back as soon as we can – you need to diet for about six months before and after, though, so it’s a serious undertaking!

  5. Bob Amoruso

    Also known as “Il gigante”. Look at the statue from the right rear and you’ll understand why ( and also why the pope was a little kissed off)!


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