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Natural artifizio – artifiziosa natura: Grottos of the Early Modern Age in Italy

Fonte Doria

The Fonte Doria, erected by the architect Galeazzo Alessi in the Genoese district of Fassolo in 1548/49, is the earliest Genoese garden grotto known to us. The building, which would be a model for later Genoese grottoes both in terms of its octagonal building type and its system of decoration, was presumably commissioned by the Genoese admiral Erasmo Doria Galleani, from the innermost circle of Andrea Doria. Formerly it belonged to the park of the Villa Doria del Gigante, but is now hemmed in by modern residential buildings and isolated from its original garden context. The vestibule of the layout was destroyed in the Second World War, but the extensive mosaic cycle in the octagonal main chamber has survived intact. Relief figures of the personified Nile and Tiber, alluding to the ancient river gods in the Vatican’s Cortile del Belvedere, can be recognized between monumental herms on the side walls. The octagonal dome over the inner chamber is decorated with eight representations mainly taken from Ovid’s "Metamorphoses", which is here exploited in the form of a marine cycle to celebrate the Doria family and its naval achievements. The trident-wielding Neptune calming the waves, accompanied with sea-horses, occupies a prominent place opposite the entrance; he is flanked to the sides with scenes of Perseus and Andromeda, Nessus and Deianira, Galatea and Polyphemus, Arion and Venus on a Triton.


Destroyed vestibule

East side, rocaille fountain niche flanked by herms

North-east wall, river-god, the Tiber

Interior, head of herm

View of octagonal inner chamber

Dome, sea-horses of Neptune

Dome, Perseus and Andromeda

Dome, Triton and Venus

Dome, Nessus and Dejanira




© KHI in Florence | 20.01.2021 08:28:39