Sculpting Rome’s Waters: The Fountain of the Bees

Kerry Longbottom

Fig. 9. Gianlorenzo Bernini, “Fountain of the Bees,” 1644, Rome, Piazza Barberini (source — Carmen Alonso Suarez)

The inscription on the Fountain of the Bees reads:

“Urban VIII P.M., having built a fountain as a public ornament for the Urbe (in the center of the piazza), built this drinking trough apart from it for the use of private individuals, in 1644, in the XXI year of his pontificate.”[1]

Since the monumental Fountain of Triton was too grand to be belittled by having people and their animals drink from it, Bernini served this need by constructing a much smaller fountain, called a beveratori, on the corner of the Piazza.  The fountain subtly corresponds to the design of the Fountain of Triton with the use of shells to form the inscription plaque and basin that match those in the larger fountain, as well as the ever-present Barberini bees.  These features form an elegant solution to the matter of the fountain’s public use, as the bees marked the spouts for people to either collect or drink water from the fountain, while the lower shell serves as the trough to which people would bring their draft horses.


[1] Cesare D’Onofrio, “Fountains of Rome,” FMR 81 (1996): 66.