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 effectively depicts the sea deity 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 Piazza Barberini in Rome, 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.