An Italian Sculptural Pilgrimage - part XXI

One of Four Egyptian Lion Sculptures in the Central Fountain in Piazza del Popolo, Rome (LEO Design)

Join me on my summer holiday as I travel (mostly) through Italy—as always, in search of beautiful sites, sculpture and all things sculpture-ish. 

Rome is full of fountains—some grand, some quite plain—and it is important to remember that they were not strictly decorative.  They carried fresh water into the city and were intended to be used by residents as their water source. Even today, they carry fresh water which (some people say) may be drunk. But, in true Italian style, even a pedestrian utility can be elevated to the beautiful.

The Piazza dell Popolo literally means "The Plaza of the People" although the square was originally named for the poplar trees which lined a part of the piazza. The square as we see it today was laid-out by architect Giusepe Valadier between 1811 and 1822 at the Porta Flaminia, the Northern gate through the Aurelian Wall (built 271-275 AD).

In the early 19th Century, Napoleon (an Italian!) had crowned himself Emperor of France and was on the rampage, invading and subduing countries throughout Europe. He also led an expedition to Egypt which had an enormous impact on the fashion and decorative arts in France (and beyond)—a design period called "Empire" (Ahm-peer). One can see this Empire Aesthetic at work in the Piazza del Popolo—especially in the Fontana dell'Obelisco in the center. In this fountain, four stylized, Sphinx-like "Egyptian Lions" spout water from their mouths, surrounding the Flaminio Obelisk, the second largest Ancient Egyptian obelisk in Rome (standing 118 feet tall, including its plinth). The obelisk was made in Helios, Egypt circa 1290-1270 BC and brought to Rome in the year 10 BC; it was first installed in this piazza in 1589. In the 1820's, it was mounted at the center, surrounded by the four lions, as we see it today.

We'll continue our summer holiday tomorrow. 


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