Monte Cavallo Fountain: Maps of Rome
Two enormous statues of the Discuri (Castor and Pollux) stand in front of the Quirinale Palace, their horses rear up beside them, and they create an attitude that is somewhere between haughty and horrified. What is so great about these statues is that they appear on all of the old maps of Rome and city guides, clear back to the 1400’s.
These statues have stood in the same place as we see them now, although originally turned toward and lined up exactly with Constantine’s baths. They stood at the very end of the old Alta Semita road. The road become known as the Strada Pia during the time on Pius IV in 1561, and stayed this way until the time of Sixtus V.
Pope sixtus decided he did not like the location of the statues facing the ancient baths. His reasoning was that the statues, even with their imposing size, had no impression on anyone coming from Porta Pia. Pope Sixtus took advantage of the talents of his favorite artists, Domenica Fontana, and had the group moved back and turned to face the Strada Pia. Fontana did not need told twice, as he had already moved ancient chunks of old junk through the city when he assembled the Egyptian obelisks.
Here is how he describes his task: Sixtus V had me move the horses of Praxiteles and Phidia all damaged and corroded with age into a more dignified location opposite the opening of Strada Pia. I had to restore a large part of their bodies and limbs because they were missing and I made marble pedestals for them, with the following inscriptions newly cut around them in archaic capital letters; and all with the greatest care and at very great expense.
The inscriptions are not that relevant as they have little to do with the fountain, but two of them that were beneath the horses were removed in 1634. According the inscription ordered by Sixtus V, the two groups that were to represent Alexander the Great and his horse, were not the work of the Greek Sculptors, Phidia and Praxiteles, or they were not actually Alexander the Great.
Fontana continued, regarding the long inscriptions, “In the same place [Sixtus V] leveled and enlarged a fine square to serve the Consistories that take place at Monte Cavallo, to such an extent that it has become very beautiful and can hold very many people, and he has had a public fountain put there with an excellent abundance of water, and has leveled Strada Pia. As we have seen, the first stage of the conduits bringing the Aqua Felice to the Capitoline Hill was marked by the Four Fountains which, at the time in 1590 still numbered only three. Sixtus now wanted Master Domenico to build him a beautiful stone fountain at the other end of that same Strada Pia, against the backdrop of "Fidie and Presitelli" (as a contemporary document called the two restored colossi). You can see what this fountain used to look like from a few sketches made a good many years apart. A large octagonal travertine base with two steps leads to an irregularly shaped basin. On the outside of the basin, alternating with Sixtus's coat-of-arms, four lion's heads spout water into a channel cut into the base itself.”