Title and Date of Work: The Fountain of Neptune, 1565
Name of Artist(s): Bartolommeo Ammanati
Neptune was the Roman god of water and sea. In Roman mythology, he is the counterpart of the Greek god Poseidon. Neptune was the brother of Jupiter and Pluto, each of them presiding over one of the three realms of Heaven, Earth and the Netherigions. Neptune was actually a god of springs, lakes and rivers before becoming also a god of the sea. This is testified by the numerous findings of inscriptions mentioning him in the proximity of such locations. Servius, the grammarian, also explicitly states Neptune is in charge of all the rivers, springs and waters. He also is the lord of horses because he worked with Athena to make chariots. In the earlier times it was the god Portunes or Fortunus who was thanked for naval victories. Neptune supplanted him in this role by at least the first century BC when Sextus Pompeius, a navy general, called himself “son of Neptune.
Bartolomeo Ammanati was born into a family of masons in Settignano, a stonecutters’ town near Florence, where Michelangelo had also been raised as an infant. The dominance of Michelangelo has tended to distort the story of Florentine sculpture, but Ammanati was indeed one of Florence’s greatest sculptors. Ammanati was primarily known as an architect and he designed many buildings in Rome and Florence. One of his most famous works was the Pitti Palace in Florence and a beautiful bridge over the Arno, known as the Ponte Santa Trinita. An orphan at the age of 12, Ammanati was an apprenticed to Bacccio Bandinelli. With him he learned certain skills, but had a limited range. Ammanati admired the work of Michelangelo and looked to his works for guidance.
He was commissioned for this fountain on the wedding of Francessco I di’Medici with Johanna of Austria in 1565. Originally this assignment had been given to Baccio Bandinelli, who designed the model. Bandinelli died before starting work on the block and the project was handed over to Ammanati. He and his assistants worked on it for about two years. When the work was finished, the sea god was not very appreciated. The local Florentines called it “il Biancone,” meaning “the white giant.” Among the unappreciative Florentines was Michelangelo, who scoffed that Ammanati had ruined a beautiful piece of marble: “Ammanati, Ammanato, che bell’ marmot hai rovinato!”
Ammanati continued to work on this fountain for another ten years, adding bronze river gods, who reclined along the perimeter. He also added marble sea horses emerging from the water, as well as laughing satyrs. The fountain is meant to be an allusion to the dominion of the Florentines over the sea. The figure stands high on the pedestal in the center of the fountain. The sea-horses are drawing Neptune’s chariot, which is the giant seashell decorated with chained figures of Scylla and Charybdis.
By the early 1580s Ammannati had become puritanical, turning his back on a lifetime’s achievement by denouncing the public display of nude statuary. He and his wife, Laura, left all their property to the Jesuits, she dying in 1589 and he three years later.