Title: Fonte Gaia
Artist: Jacopo della Quercia
Location: Piazza del Campo
Date: 1346 then replaced 1419 then replaced by a copy in 1858
The Fonte Gaia fountain, designed by Jacopo della Quercia around 1419, decorates the higher part of Piazza del Campo. The fountain we see today stands on almost the exact same spot that had been occupied by a previously existing fountain in 1346. The water that feeds the fountain travels from a spring in the nearby countryside through 25 kilometers, about 15.5 miles, of underground passages known as Bottini, built in the Middle Ages and named because of their barrel vaulting. Gaia means “joyful” and thus the fountain is named Fonte Gaia on account of the great celebrations that took place when the citizens of Siena finally saw the water gushing out from the fountain for the first time. Della Quercia drew his inspiration for his design of the fountain from the traditional designs of Medieval Sienna public fountains. A large, altar-like rectangular basin is surrounded on three sides by a high wall. The sides are decorated with reliefs of The Creation of Adam and The Flight from the Garden of Eden. Two female figures decorate the front two columns. These figures are traditionally believed to represent Rea Silvia and Acca Larentia, in remembrance of Siena’s legendary associations with Rome. The long section of the fountain is adorned at the center with a Madonna and Child, surrounded by allegories of the Virtues. Although in poor condition, the sculptures are still a clear indication of the originality and power of Jacopo della Quercia, who had managed to capture an extraordinary sense of movement in so few simple lines. By the middle of the 19th century the fountain was in such disrepair that the city council decided to replace the original with a copy. Tito Sarrocchi was commissioned to sculpt the new fountain in 1858 and he completed it in 1869. However, he did so without the two statues on the final pilasters. What remains of the original fountain by Jacopo della Quercia is kept in the Loggia of the Palazzo Pubblico.
Stories of the fountain
The design of the fountain tells three stories. The first is the creation story starting with the Creation of Adam and finishing with the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. In this part of the fountain Della Quercia is telling the story of the creation according to Christian, Islam and Jewish theology. The second story is that Della Quercia tells in the fountain is that of the Madonna and Child. He is telling the single most important story that can be told; that of a loving savior coming to earth threw the virgin Mary. The final story that Della Quercia’s model of the fountain which was left out in Sarrocchi’s copy of the fountain is that of Rea Silvia and Acca Larentia. According to legend Rea Silvia was the mother of Romulus and Remus. She was the daughter of Numitor, king of Alba Longa, and descended from Aeneas. Numitor’s younger brother Amulius seized the throne and killed Numitor’s son, then forced Rhea Silvia to become a Vestal Virgin, a priestess of the goddess Vesta. As Vestal Virgins were sworn to celibacy for a period of thirty years, this would ensure the line of Numitor had no heirs. However, Rhea Silvia conceived and gave birth to the twins Romulus and Remus, claiming that the god Mars had discovered her in the forest and seduced her. When Amulius learned of the birth he imprisoned Rhea Silvia and ordered a servant to kill the twins. But the servant showed mercy and set them adrift on the river Tiber, which, overflowing, left the infants in a pool by the bank. There a she-wolf, who had just lost her own cubs, suckled them. Subsequently Faustulus rescued the boys, to be raised by his wife Larentia.