Water gushes from a giant stone mask and a small dog drinks from the pool below.


A woman in black poses for a photographer in front of a stone fountain basin. At first glance these two images have little to connect them except carved stone and Roman grandeur.


The Fontana del Mascherone di Santa Sabina is an eye-catching feature in the little piazza next to the church of Santa Sabina on the Aventino hill.  At first glance the water-spouting mask, the grand trough and the stone curb enclosing the shallow pool look like matching parts designed to go together.  A quick web search reveals that the mask was made in 1593 as part of a fountain designed by Giacomo della Porta and installed in the Campo Vaccino or ‘cow field’, part of the Roman Forum then used for grazing cattle.


This 1620 view of the Campo Vaccino by Cornelius van Poelenburg shows a grand, stone fountain and watering trough among the ancient ruins.   Click for a closer view and you’ll see that the water is spouting from a carved mask…

In 1816 the Fontana della Porta was demolished and the stone mask was reused to decorate a fountain on the right bank of the river Tiber by the church of San Giovanni dei Fiornetini.  In 1890 that fountain was in turn demolished as new flood protection walls were built along the Tiber and the mask was consigned to the municipal store.

In 1936 architect Antonio Munõz rescued the mask from its storage place and combined it with a spare ancient Roman bathtub to make the fountain seen today on the Aventino.  It looks as though it’s been there forever.


This fountain, seriously grand though currently dry, is the centre piece of the facade of the Palazzo Senatorio on the Capitoline hill and another stone patchwork that spans the centuries. An earlier building on this site was updated and modernized by Giacomo della Porta early in the sixteenth century with monumental twin staircases to a design by Michelangelo.

The colossal, ancient statues, framed by the two wings of the staircase, once stood outside the emperor Constantine’s baths on the Quirinal hill.  The figure on the left represents the river Nile with the giant river god supported by a sphinx.  In its original form the statue on the right represented the river Tigris, complete with supporting tiger, but when it was moved to its current location someone had the bright idea of chiseling the tiger into a wolf and adding the twin founders of Rome, so converting the Tigris to the Tiber.  The river god looks rather disdainful of all this activity under his elbow. (Click on the photo to look closer)


The modifications and alterations don’t end there.  The fountain basins were added in 1595, after Michelangelo’s death, when the Acqua Felice aqueduct brought a plentiful water supply to the Capitoline.   Apparently Michelangelo intended a large statue of Jove to occupy the central alcove but when the fountain was finally completed Jove’s place was taken by a small, ancient statue of the goddess Minerva ‘adapted to represent the city of Rome’.  I’ve read that description on several websites but don’t know exactly what adaptations were necessary.  In this 1669 view by Giovanni Battista Falda the river gods are recognisably the same but I’m not sure about Minerva…

I found more links between my two snapshots than I expected, stone, water, the designs of Giacomo della Porto and the Roman tendency to reuse and recycle ancient artifacts to fit with changing times.  As for the woman in black, your guess is as good as mine.


Much of the information in this post on the Fontana del Mascherone di Santa Sabina came from an article on Intinera Barbarae.