Along with The Towers of Bologna covered in a previous post, the Fountain of Neptune has long been a symbol of the city. In 1563 Pope Pius IV, ruler of the Papal Sates of which Bologna was part, wrote to his vicelegate Pier Donato Cesi asking him to initiate building a fountain.
The commission went to the Flemish sculptor Jean de Boulogne de Douai otherwise known as “Giambologna” who had missed out on a previous similar job in Florence.
Work commenced after the demolition of a group of buildings and the statue was completed in 1567. It’s stood there ever since except for removal for safety during the two world wars.
Soon after it’s completion, the town’s inhabitants were making good use of the fountain and the city had to issue edicts forbidding activities such as washing clothes and rinsing vegetables.
The story goes that Giambologna wanted to make Neptune’s private parts somewhat larger but this was forbidden by the church. From a certain angle, the thumb of the left hand takes on a somewhat different aspect and this is supposed to be Giambologna’s revenge.
At one stage, the church fitted the statue with bronze pants as ladies were swooning at the sight of Neptune. It’s also said that students would walk twice around the statue in an anti-clockwise direction for good luck before an exam. It’s still a popular place for celebrations of graduations.
The fountain has undergone numerous repairs including major ones in 1762, 1907, 1935 and 1988. The most recent restoration was completed at the end of 2017. Guided visits were possible during the time work was underway, allowing interesting views of the statue.
In 1920, the trident was adopted by the local car manufacturing company Maserati as their corporate symbol.
Here are a couple of photos taken after restoration.
Another interesting connection with Giambologna is a small cast iron statue of a devil to be found at Via d’Azeglio 41.
It’s pretty much an exact copy of a devil at Palazzo Vechietto in Florence which is known to be the work of Giambologna but whether the Bologna one is his also is unknown. The building in Via d’Azeglio was once an orphanage and perhaps the intent was to make parents of newborns think twice before abandoning them at the door.
In 2020, the Polish artist Arkadiusz Żółtowski completed a 3.4m high statue of Neptune in the port city of Hel, based on the Bologna Neptune.