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Bill Thayer

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La Pupilla di Pesaro

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The day I visited Pesaro most of the piazza was taken up by a concert stage and hundreds of chairs, so you'll get no general view of the fountain from me. I will make a virtue of necessity and tell you that you're getting a better impression of it this way; it might even be true.

When the 36‑year‑old Roman sculptor Lorenzo Ottoni, a student of Bernini's, came to town in 1684 to work on a monumental statue of Pope Urban VIII, he found in the fountain on the city's main piazza a project much more congenial to him, and in which he was so successful that his creation is thought of as the "Apple of Pesaro's Eye". There was in fact a fountain already there, from the previous century, but he reworked it so much as to make it altogether his own, and I don't imagine him to have been a shy man: his fountain, although not that large, dominates the square (now named the Piazza del Popolo).

As one of the five cities of the Pentapoli Marittima, for several centuries Pesaro had been one of the chief ports on the Adriatic, so the maritime theme was obvious: Ottoni's fountain, allegorical of the sea, is a round basin of white Istria stone in which four sea-horses naiant guard a large shell supported by Tritons astride dolphins; the characteristic baroque ensemble, carved in handsomely contrasting orange Veronese broccatello marble, is rounded out by more shells, intimations of wrecked ships, seaweed, and discrete heraldic references.

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The elegant arcading in the background belongs to the Ducal Palace.

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A closer look at one of the four Tritons: the water-sprite of classical mythology, sounding a double conch. If Ottoni carved him from life, though, it surely couldn't have done his model's reputation much good!

In August 1944, the German army, retreating in a hurry from Italy, whose people just a few months before had decisively turned against it, wreaked havoc on much of the country, destroying many historical and cultural monuments: sheer rage, though with various pretexts. In this case, Pesaro's pride and joy was blown up because it might supply water to the Allies. . . . By great good fortune, though, Ottoni's wooden scale model had been preserved: the fountain you see now is a loving recreation brought about at a grass-roots level by the citizens of Pesaro in 1960, based on that model and incorporating as many fragments as possible of the 17c stonework.

(And if you like this fountain, as I do, you can find one more photo of it on my Pesaro homepage:)

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Page updated: 13 Aug 03