At A Glance
Replica of the Fontana dei Cavalli Marini in the Villa Borghese Gardens in Rome
Gift of the Italian government for the U.S. Sesquicentennial in 1926, but arrived too late for the celebrations
Major restoration was performed in 2012 to clean and repair fountain, which included improving previous restoration attempts
The fountain turned on in 2013 for the first time since 2006
This Italian travertine marble fountain featuring four sea horses – symbols of strength and vitality – was a gift from the Italian government (Mussolini’s government) to mark the United States’ 1926 Sesquicentennial. Fountain of the Sea Horses is a copy carved after the famed fountain at the Villa Borghese Gardens in Rome, Italy, designed by painter Christopher Unterberger and carved by sculptor Vincenzo Pacetti.
The fountain, sent from Italy in 76 pieces, arrived too late for installation at the Sesquicentennial Exposition
The fountain, sent from Italy in 76 pieces, arrived too late for installation at the Sesquicentennial Exposition, which was held in FDR Park in South Philadelphia. It was assembled by Italian craftsmen in 1928 and installed on the axis behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as suggested by Jacques Gréber’s plan for the Benjamin Franklin Parkway a decade earlier.
The fountain’s mechanical system eventually deteriorated, and was refurbished as a Bicentennial project with the assistance of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Sons of Italy. However, much more conservation would be needed in the years that followed: “After a series of restorations throughout the years,” wrote Megan Lydon for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “by 2006 it had become clear that the fountain would need major rehabilitation. Made of travertine, it didn’t hold up well in the Philadelphia climate. Earlier restorations used concrete to patch the cracks, making things worse.”
In 2012, Fountain of the Sea Horses underwent a major restoration project, initiated by the City and carried out by Materials Conservation. The firm disassembled, cleaned, conserved, and reassembled the fountain’s 40 tons of stone while the site underwent mechanical improvement. By fall 2013, water was flowing from the fountain again for the first time since 2006.
- Italian Fountain Restored, getting ready to splash again this summer (PlanPhilly)
- Historic Art Museum fountain returns to life (Philadelphia Inquirer)
This artwork is part of the Around the Philadelphia Museum of Art tour