For this drinking fountain obelisk, Mauro Pallotta has borrowed two important objects, one from Baroque Renaissance Rome and the other from the nineteenth century city, and has mixed them together with the irony typical of his art.

The conceptual meaning of Pallotta’s work is always to be found in the distance between high and low – between official history and popular commentary.

This time, though, the artist has not transformed a pope into a superhero or a queen into a yogi but – using symbols which are immediately recognisable – has raised a typical Roman drinking fountain (the ones locally called a nasone‘ or ‘big nose’, due to the characteristic shape of its spout) to the role of imposing Egyptian obelisk.

But there is a Pope in this painting too – or I, at least, can see one.

There he is, at the dead centre of the piece: it is Pope Sixtus V, Renaissance pontiff, evoked and conceptually portrayed here.

Sixtus V was the pope who completed the work on the Aqua Felix aqueduct (to which he gave his own first name) and who – as well as the many fountains he had built in the city centre – also donated the fountain of Porta Furba to this suburban area of Roman aqueducts. It was Sixtus V who laid out the main streets of the city of Rome so that they would connect the city’s main basilicas with straight lines, and who erected the four obelisks in St. Peter’s Square, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza dell’Esquilino and Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano, to offer pilgrims some monumental reference points that would allow them to orient themselves between these basilicas. The same pope who instituted the famous ‘tour of the Seven Churches’, which became an idiomatic expression used to mean spending a long period of wandering.

Looking at MauPal’s nasone is like seeing the fountain of Piazza Pantheon taking a trip out of town – outside the GRA.

In that square full of tourists there is the fountain of Giacomo della Porta, which is to the majesty of the aqueducts that run here along the Tuscolana exactly what the nineteenth-century nasone with its three spouts – one of which still exists immediately behind the sixteenth-century source there by the Pantheon – is to the fountain of Porta Furba.

In this painting, the nasone represents the final stage of the water that arrives in Rome via the aqueducts. It is the symbol of the free distribution of water to the Romans and is a ‘democratic’ monument par excellence: one of the few elements of street furniture which is the same in the centre as it is in the outskirts.

And the play of the two tubes which offer more water to one side than to the other gives the piece its typically Roman sardonic and cynical tone. 

It brings to mind  Sixtus V’s revision of the tax system, which brought hitherto-unseen amounts of money flooding into the papal coffers, and evokes also the sonnets of Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, where the popes and nobles on one side scorned and mistreated the cursing Roman populace on the other.

It is the well-known Roman saying – io so’ io e voi nun zete un cazzo!, or ‘I’m me and you’re nothing!’ – which is today reflected in the battle over water and, more generally, in the 99% of the world’s wealth which is concentrated in the hands of 1% of its population.

Work in progress


Furba and Felice

The consular Via Tuscolana brings us to the Aqua Felix aqueduct, which was restored and connected to the city at the end of the sixteenth century by Pope Sixtus V (from whose original name – Felice Peretti – it takes its own), one of the popes who went down in history as a ‘builder pope’ . But the Tuscolana has a working class face as well as that of the nobility of Pope Sixtus’s Renaissance innovations, and the two – even before the more recent developments of the Quadraro and Cinecittà areas – meet at Porta Furba, so called from the Latin word forma which, especially in the Middle Ages, was used to mean aqueducts (and which demonstrates how it was an arch of the aqueduct that was subsequently adapted into a porta or ‘door’) and because of the thieves (fur in Latin, from which ‘furba’) which evidently crowded the local inns.

Just to remain on topic, we should also note that the typical Roman measurements of wine (fojetta, quartino, tubbo, barzilaio etc.) were introduced by Sixtus V as a fiscal manoeuvre to obtain the necessary funds for his immense works of civil engineering which produced, to name but a few, the Quirinale palace, via Sistina and the repositioning of some of the most important obelisks in Rome, not least the very famous one in Saint Peter’s Square.

Sixtus V is one of the pontiffs who is traditionally dearest to the Roman people – in part thanks to Gioachino Belli’s nineteenth century sonnet which baptized him ‘Sisto, the pope who wouldn’t even forgive Jesus’ – and he was among the first popes of the modern age to repair the interruption of the aqueducts suffered by Rome in antiquity. The responsibility for this gesture is usually attributed to the barbarians of Vitiges, who, in the sixth century, camped near the aqueduct in question on what today is Via dell’Acquedotto Felice.

Under the banner of Sixtus V, Rome thus faced another radical change which brought it even closer to the way that we see it today. And this is the story that the Tuscolana tells, on the border between the high and the low in a typically Roman process of ongoing renewal that evokes the depth and complexity of the city’s soul as well as the richness of its past.



Mauro Pallotta was born in Rome in 1972, where he attended the A. Caravillani Art School and the Academy of Fine Arts. A lover of experimentation, he has always utilised a range of different materials in his creative process: playing cards, wood, corks, glass and plastic, objects taken from everyday life to be given new meanings. Later, he became interested in the inherent sculptural potential of steel wool and used it as a material for sculptures where what at first glance appear to be rough forms are realistically reconstructed in the eye of the observer. Under the pseudonym of Maupal he creates street art, among which the famous ‘SuperPope’ which appeared in January 2014 on the facade of a building in a side street near Piazza San Pietro in Rome. He gave a small reproduction of the piece to Pope Francis himself, who received him at the Vatican.