The fountain of the pine-cone outside Old St Peter’s in Rome

In the little courtyard or “atrium”, inside the portico but outside the main doors of Old St Peter’s (and you can follow the tag below for many images of the church), stood a little fountain.

pianta di Roma di Etienne Du Perac (1577), particolare del Vaticano.
pianta di Roma di Etienne Du Perac (1577), particolare del Vaticano.

It included a colossal pine-cone of bronze, which will be familiar to many who have visited the Vatican[1]:

The Vatican pinecone and peacocks today. Via Wikimedia Commons.
The Vatican pinecone and peacocks today. Via Wikimedia Commons.

I found online at Google Books[2] the following copy of a drawing of the fountain, itself taken from Huelsen[3]:

Water installation with bronze pine-cone in the atrium of Old St Peter's, Rome.  Drawing by Cronaca (1457-1505).  Uffizi, Florence, 1572.
Water installation with bronze pine-cone in the atrium of Old St Peter’s, Rome. Drawing by Cronaca (1457-1505). Uffizi, Florence, 1572.

The Huelsen article includes further drawings.

huelsen_fig3
Andrea della Vaccaria, “Ornamenti di fabriche antichi e moderni dell’alma citta di Roma”, 1600, quarto.

Another image comes from a manuscript, Ms. Brussels 17872, fol. 56v, by Philipp de Winghe, and made around 1591-2.

huelsen_fig2

Supposedly water would come out of the pinecone at various places, although how I don’t quite know.  The pinecone and two of the peacocks have survived, as may be seen above.

  1. [1]Photo from Wikimedia Commons, by Wknight94, April 2008.
  2. [2]A. van den Hoek & John H. Herrmann Jr, “Paulinus of Nola, courtyards and canthari: a second look”, In: A. van den Hoek &c, Pottery, Pavements, and Paradise: Iconographic and Textual Studies on Late Antiquity, Brill (2013), p.45, fig. 13.
  3. [3]C. Huelsen, “Der Cantharus von Alt-St. -Peter und die antiken Pignen-Brunnen,”, Romische Mitteilungen 19 (1904), 88-102. Plate 5a.  Online at Archive.org here.

13 thoughts on “The fountain of the pine-cone outside Old St Peter’s in Rome

  1. I could never accurately assess whether la Pigna was the remnants of the original or a replica. Do you have any validation as to it’s authenticity?

  2. I have no idea – never heard the suggestion that it is a copy. It serves no purpose where it currently is, so I quite believe that it is left over from the demolition of Old St Peter’s. But do you know something that makes you think it’s a modern replica?

  3. It’s just that the artists above (the first two, at least) clearly aren’t struggling to accurately represent the features of the fountain and they show it to have perfect egg shape/oval symmetry, whereas the pine cone is, well, pine cone shaped.

  4. Good point, Roger. Both fish and peacock are hieroglyphs in pre-Christian traditions related to metalwork, traceable to Samarra bowls and ligatured fish artifacts of Sumerian stone troughs: aya, ayo ‘fish’ Rebus: ayo ‘iron’ (Gujarati); ayas ‘metal’ (Rigveda) maraka ‘peacock’ Rebus: marakaka loha ‘copper alloy, calcining metal’. The other hieroglyph is pine-cone: kaNDe ‘pine cone’ Rebus: kaNDa ‘metalware’; kANDa ‘water’. It appears that the idea of immortality is linked to the durability of metalwork. In Kota language a gloss for smithy is kole.l The same gloss denotes ‘temple’. The idea of the temple seems to have roots in archaeometalurgy? The large pair of bronze peacocks and the large bronze pine cone were present in front of the Isis temple in Pompeii (according to the drawings of 16th cent.)? What is the evidence for assuming the peacocks to be from Hadrian’s mausoleum?

  5. http://cache2.allpostersimages.com/p/LRG/50/5087/FRK2G00Z/affiches/vase-dit-a-la-cachette-et-une-partie-de-son-depot.jpg The vase a la cachette, shown with its contents. Acropole mound, Susa. Old Elamite period, ca. 2500 – 2400 BCE. Clay. H 201/4 in. (51 cm) Paris. Musee du Louvre. Sb 2723.

    The dominant hieroglyph on the Susa pot is: fish. The pot contained metalware (import from Meluhha? — Maurizio Tosi). Picture of contents of the vase: http://www.pompanon.fr/photos/min/v/k/i/4f40495ef391c.jpg

  6. I’m not familiar with the history of the peacocks, and I suspect that there is a lot of hearsay being passed around, some of it from the renaissance.

  7. Thank you for these. But of course the use of the image of a natural object in the past tells us nothing as to the reason for its use in Rome.

  8. Yes, indeed, Roger. Use of two images in conjunction: pine cone & peacock. Locus: in front of Temple of Isis, divinity of seafarers. Inference: seafaring merchants trading in metals created the structure in front of the temple, while advertising their wares to the devotees:)– What were the objects called by the creators? The two bronze objects are just stunning; should be subjected to archaeometallurgical evaluation.

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