Key to Umbria: Perugia

Fontana Minore (1281; demolished 1308)

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This fountain, which stood “in pede fori” (on the probable site of the Roman forum, in modern Piazza della Repubblica) was commissioned from Arnolfo di Cambio, probably in 1277.  It is his earliest documented work. 

It seems that Arnolfo did not arrive in Perugia until early 1281, when he was paid for 24 days work.  This suggests that the design of the fountain and the execution of the associated sculptures was carried out in Rome (where Arnolfo was at work for King Charles I of Naples), and that Arnolfo visited Perugia for the installation.   

The fountain ceased to function (possibly through an interruption in the water supply) in 1301 and was demolished in 1308.  (Some of the stones were used to build the steps up to the main entrance to Sant’ Ercolano).

The history of the few sculptural fragments that survived the demolition of the fountain is unclear until they were collected together in the period 1872-1968.   These fragments, which are now in the Galleria Nazionale, comprise:

  1. two seated jurists, one of which is headless (and the other is illustrated here);

  2. two reclining figures in deep relief; and

  3. a relief of a thirsting woman at the well (illustrated here).

Lion and Griffin (1274)


The Commune probably commissioned these magnificent bronze statues in 1274 for use in the annual procession on the feast of St Herculanus: this procession from the Duomo to San Domenico and back was first documented in 1276, when they were in “eglesia Sancti Laurenzii et Sancti Herculani” (the Duomo).  An artist known as the Maestro del 1274 cast each of them in a single piece.   The griffin's wings were added in 1281, at which point both figures were gilded. 

The figures were placed on detachable mounts on the Fontana Minore from 1281 until 1301, and presumably continued to be used in the processions throughout this period.  They were removed from the fountain and  placed above the external portal of what is now known as the Sala dei Notai, Palazzo dei Priori in 1301.   

The figures were removed for restoration in 1951 and returned to their original locations in 1973.

  1. They were replaced by copies (illustrated at the centre above) in 1985.  

  2. The originals (illustrated to the sides above) were exhibited in the Galleria Nazionale.  However, at the time of my visit in 2013, they were temporarily located in the enclosed courtyard through the Portale dei Santi Patroni of Palazzo dei Priori.

Read more:

B. Dozzini, “Main Fountain of Perugia” (1994), Assisi, which includes the translations of the inscriptions given above.

M. Battisti, "Per una Revisione del ‘Problema Fra’ Bevignate’: l’ Attività Perugina e Orvietana", Bollettino Istituto Storico Artistico Orvietano,  42-3 (1986-7) 83-108.

V. Martinelli, “Arnolfo a Perugia”, in

  1. Storia e Arte in Umbria nell' Età Comunale: Atti del VI Convegno di Studi Umbri, Gubbio, 1968”, (1971), Perugia (Volume I), pp 1–42

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