Sculpting Rome’s Waters: A Fountain for Innocent X

Kerry Longbottom

Long before the Fountain of the Four Rivers was built, Pope Innocent X and the rest of the Pamphili family had slowly been making their mark on the Piazza Navona.  The Pamphili was a relatively new family in Rome, as they had moved there from Gubbio at the end of the fifteenth century, and over the course of several generations had done some significant social climbing.[1]   This social climbing largely involved the purchasing of property facing the Piazza Navona, as it was one of the most prestigious piazzas in Rome.[2]  Once Giovanni Battista Pamphili was raised to the College of Cardinals in 1630 the family built a palace on the Piazza to cement their place among the Roman nobility, and when Cardinal Pamphili was elected pope he carried the family’s building ambitions even further.[3]

Shortly after his election in 1644, Pope Innocent X had already expressed the desire to build a large fountain in the center of Piazza Navona to replace the small trough that had been built there by Giacomo della Porta.[4]  In 1647 a colossal obelisk was discovered near San Sebastiano, providing Innocent X with the inspiration for his fountain design.[5]


[1] Stephanie C. Leone, ”Cardinal Pamphilj Builds a Palace: Self-Representation and Familial Ambition in Seventeenth-Century Rome,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 63, no. 4 (2004): 440.

[2] Leone, “Cardinal Pamphilj,” 443.

[3] Leone, “Cardinal Pamphilj,” 440

[4] John Pope-Hennessy, Italian High Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture: An Introduction to Italian Sculpture (New York: Random House, 1985), 119.

[5] Pope-Hennessy, Baroque Sculpture, 119.