Bernini’s Beginning of Fountain Creation
One of the first works Bernini was commissioned for was in 1622 for the estate that Domenica Fontana had built for Sixtus V. It was still in the typical style, containing none of the “rustic fountains”. Bernini’s project was to create an ornamental feature of a famous fishpond, which was a wide oval pool with a balustrade surrounding it, and twelve statues stood, with alternating cups that spray out water. It was at the end of the balustrade, where the sprays were strongest, that Bernini chose to place his intense sculpture. His Neptune was described as, “Neptune, infuriated by the unruly waves, brandishes his trident in a threatening gesture while, between his legs, the half-seen figure of a lively Triton emerges, blowing water through a conch shell.” This powerful sculpture demonstrated the beginnings of the principles of the artist.
When Bernini was commissioned to work at the Courtyard of the Belvedere, he had his first experience with the whole fountain. Small springs of clean and fresh water had sprung up west of the area below the Vatican hill. The Pope, Urban VIII at this time, decided the springs must be channeled, and assigned Bernini the responsibility for Rome’s fountains and conduits, and charged him with the creation of a new fountain for this location.
Bernini chose a design that would reflect the water springs. He carved a hill in a triangular shape, scattering bushes and plants on it, and on each side, he added thick branches that twisted, bearing leaves and berries, creating a unique and slightly fearsome appearance. A verse was placed on the fountain that stated, “"The bees suck honey from the flower, so why be surprised that now they offer honeyed water?"
Bernini’s inspiration for this fountain came from a nearby rustic fountain called the “Eagle”. This fountain was built 15 years earlier for Paul V, as the display for the Aqua Paola in the Vatican Gardens. This fountain was a stunning and exciting combination of dragons and sea creatures hiding amongst the rocks and caves. The “Vatican Bees” fountain moves away from the decorative sculpture, uniting sculpture and architecture through using the animal element to bond the brutal force of nature and the gentleness of flowing water.
Another fountain with similarities to the Vatican Bees fountain stood in a niche that once closed off the entrance hall of the Palazzo Barberini. It featured an open shell with a sun that sprayed water in a veil, and a “Great Bee” was portrayed as flying about the sun, spraying out honey. There are two tortoises on each of the four sides, as large as the bee, that pour water into the lower half of the basin.
This fountain is so typical of Bernini style, that is should create a picture for the Vatican Bees and eh present Bee Fountain in Via Veneto. This leads into another lively fountain that stood in a garden opposite the building. It was a fountain designed by architects Frencesco Arzzuri in the 19th century when the entire garden was being reorganized. Although a brand new fountain as to be designed, it is fairly likely that Azzuri used an ancient fountain that once stood at the base of the large flight of steps, which appears in sketches of the house in 1653, and another sketch from 1868. He clearly moved the fountain and made restorations in it.
Here is where Bernini placed the candle0shaped fountain, which included a very shallow basin.
The shallow basin is a trademark of Bernini. The idea behind the shallow pool was that the art of the fountain architectures should be made so that the people can enjoy the water, and create a noticeable fountain.
Bernini’s signature appears in two other places, besides the above mentioned characteristics. It appears towards the top where three bees are drinking water from around the spray, and also at the base where four marble masks send out powerful jets of water out of their mouths. The masks feature all of the typical Bernini characteristics: receding chin, large moustache, snub nose, little animal-like eyes, heavy downward-slanting eyebrows almost meeting in the middle, hair also thick and unruly and, here, fanning out around the ears.