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Fontana del Nettuno

Bologna's Silly Sea-God

Fontana del Nettuno

ci vediamo al Nettuno ('I'll meet you at Neptune') common Bolognese saying

Piazza Nettuno, in the heart of Bologna between the Palazzo Comunale and the Palazzo del Podestá, is graced with the virile and vaguely outrageous Fountain of Neptune, where a very out-of-place sea god has, as the Bolognese say, ‘abandoned the fishes to make friends with the pigeons’.

The fountain, the first public one in Bologna, was commissioned by Pope Pius IV and finished in 1566, designed by Tommaso Laureti of Palermo and embellished with sculptures by Giambologna (who despite the name wasn’t a Bolognese at all, but Jean Boulogne from Flanders; he spent most of his life in Florence, but this is the work that made his reputation).

In early 2017 Nettuno made the headlines when Facebook found a photo of the statue too sexually explicit and banned it (and felt silly afterwards). Had Giambologna had his way, ‘Il Gigante’, as Neptune is familiarly known, would have been even better endowed, but the Curia said no. So instead the sculptor adjusted the pose so that if you look up at the statue from a certain angle (stand in front of the Sala Borsa with your back to Via Indipendenza), Neptune's thumb looks just like an erection.

For company, Giambologna gave Neptune an assemblage of putti and mermaids, squirting water from their breasts; the vaguely outrageous teenagers that crowd over the fountain at all hours of the day and night came later. Any who are purposefully walking counter clockwise around the fountain are probably superstitious students about to take an exam.

The Neptune Fountain, portraying the god calming the waves with a simple gesture, was intended as an allegory of serene papal government. The serene governors knocked down a whole block to make room for it, and forced the adjacent property owners to pay for the job. Interestingly the fountain stands at the exact centre of ancient Bologna, where the two main Roman streets, the cardo and decumanus, met.

Neptune's distinctive trident may seem familiar; in 1914, the Maserati brothers borrowed it as a logo for their automobile company.

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: Fontana Ermanno