Study for a Triton (recto); Anatomical Studies ? (verso)

Artist: Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, Naples 1598–1680 Rome)

Date: 1642–43

Medium: Red chalk, the background tinted with an almost imperceptible pale brown wash, framing lines in pen and brown ink (recto); black chalk (verso)

Dimensions: 14 5/16 x 9 5/8 in. (36.4 x 24.5 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Harry G. Sperling Fund, 1973

Accession Number: 1973.265


This rough and hasty sketch by the great Baroque sculptor effectively conveys the stance and the action of Triton as he rises from the sea and raises the huge shell to his lips. The moment depicted could be that described by Ovid in the Metamorphoses when, after the great flood, Neptune summoned Triton from the depths to sound his horn and make the waters retreat. The sketch corresponds closely to the finished fountain in the Piazza Barberini in Rome, designed by Bernini in 1642-43, where water gushes forth from the conch shell and spills down into the shell-shaped basin in which the Triton sits, raised aloft by intertwined dolphins. This vigorous study represents the principal element of Bernini's Triton Fountain and it is the sculptor's only known autograph drawing for that project, which was commissioned by one of his most important and powerful patrons, Pope Urban VIII (Maffeo Barberini). The fountain is near the Palazzo Barberini.