What Inspired Bernini's Triton?
So what was the original inspiration for the Triton Fountain? As we have seen, most of Bernini’s works were either recreations of his other works, or the designs of other artists. Was the Triton fountain an original and unique idea of Bernini’s? When looking at various prints, the Triton Fountain, still in the same working condition today, was the work of Giovanni Antonio de Pomis, an artist that Bernini was working with on the rustic Gardens of the Villa Borghese. The official payment orders show that de Pomis was assisted by Bernardino Velperga, who was also a surveyor to the Papal council.
The features on the Barberini Triton fountain consist of a huge eagle that dominates the summit of the work, appearing to have just emerged for the cavern below. Two colossal dragons sit on the far sides, and at the mouth of the caves are two groups, one features a dolphin with a boy on the left and a dolphin with a girl on the right. The second group consists of a nymph on a dolphin. We need to focus however on the first group, featuring a Triton on a large dolphin. ‘
This triton features a great resemblance to the Barberini Triton. Both have the same positioning, identical movement, and hold a seemingly identical shell that the triton uses to send water into the air. Stefano Maderno carved the Triton in 1611, and the Barberini Triton fountain was created in 1643. Concluding that Bernini took inspiration for the Triton of Maderno…practically plagiarism.
If one piece was inspired from Maderno, then what was the inspiration for the rest of the work? In another fountain found in the Vatican Gardens, lost years ago, had a similar group of figures to that of the Four dolphins that support a shell in which the Triton is poised. This fountain was carved in 1609-10, called “II Franciosino”, by Nicolas Cordier.
There is a document left regarding the fountain, which is all we have left of the fountain, it states, “17 April 1610. To Nicolo Cordieri sculptor, 100 scudi in coin for a cherub with a round shell in his hand for throwing water into the air, placed above the tails of four small sea dragons five hands high (= 1.15m) and three hands wide, in the fountain at the entrance to the Belvedere garden as ornament to the second basin." When looking at the Bernini fountain, it cannot be argues that this was the inspiration!
Even with the obvious inspirations, the creation of the Barberini Triton is a worthy and forceful achievement, showing off the distinctive style of Bernini. Feeaturing elegant fluidity in the shallow basin, the four dolphins are skimming the water, as there frowns as a comic relief while they support the the enormous shell, appearing very heavy. The dolphins also support the crest of Pope Urban VIII. The piece de resistance though is the Triton, bare and fleshy, the sculpted torso exudes power, while his strong hands hold a massive conch shell. Although the artists took inspiration from previous works, his creation goes far beyond mere imitation to create a powerful and beautiful effect full of impact!
This enchanting piece has become unsuitable for the Piazza Barberini. A good suggestion would be to trade the Berberini Triton fountain with the fountain located in the Pallazo Barberini. The later fountain would not lose much through the move, but the Triton would be restored to a home of tranwuility and and a refined environment. Bernini meant for it to be in thisy type on environment, one where it can be enjoyed and embraced. The words of an 18th century author sum up the argument, “The Triton is in the act of sounding the conch shell, which throws water up so high that when the wind is blowing it splashes onto the houses in Strada Felice."