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The Fountains of the Po and the Dora

By Marina Paglieri


The fountains of the Po and Dora were created in what was referred to as “Piazza delle Fontane”, or “Fountains Square” and is today called “Piazza CLN”, where they represent a sort of metaphysical stage backdrop. Created by Umberto Baglioni, a sculptor from Turin, their very conception is an intrinsic part of the events of the 1930s concerning the transformation of the second part of Via Roma.
After the 1933 official opening of the first part of the road between Piazza Castello and Piazza San Carlo, rebuilt in eighteenth century style, the municipality announced a competition for ideas on how to pursue the work from Piazza San Carlo to Piazza Carlo Felice.
With no winner chosen, the management was entrusted to Italy’s academic architect, Marcello Piacentini.
The guidelines are now those of a modern and classical design, which meets with the requirement to keep the two churches of San Carlo and Santa Cristina, which look out onto Piazza San Carlo, and with the demand made by the Cassa di Risparmio di Torino bank to create a small square in front of the building, in Via XX Settembre.

In 1935, the project got underway. It required modifications to blocks of buildings, including the churches, with the creation of side porticoes, whilst the current Piazza CLN was created on an axis with Via Roma, surrounded on three sides by new buildings.
In January 1936, the decision was made to create behind the churches - on the fourth side of the square - “two monumental fašades in cut stone matching the architectural whole, which will include two fountains with allegorical sculptures”, inspired by the Po and the Dora.
The municipality therefore announced a competition open to the artists enrolled with the Sindacato Interprovinciale Fascista delle Belle Arti di Torino: having examined 56 sketches, the panel of judges declared Umberto Baglioni the winner.
In summer 1937, work began on the construction of the fountains. By the end of the year everything was ready to receive the two statues, created in Serravezza marble.

Restoration works

Unfortunately, a few months after the inauguration serious leaks led to the suspension of the water supply, which is now only restored on rare occasions.
To get around the problem, and the progressive damage to the two monuments, in 2005 the Turin Council for the Restoration of Artistic and Cultural Heritage financed the project to restore the fountains, whilst the SMAT, SocietÓ Metropolitana Acque Torinesi (Turin Water Company), renewed the water supply.
New work on the Po fountain, carried out by the SMAT, was needed late 2014, to eliminate water leakage from the basin.

The artist

“They are two sculptures at rest, serene, static, sober, of good even if small academic modelling, two sculptures along the lines of our Renaissance tradition and more particularly sixteenth century.
Baglioni’s merit has been, above all, to have understood the architectural function that the two statues had to assume in the overall construction”: is what is written as the Panel’s reason for choosing Umberto Baglioni’s work.

A student of Edoardo Rubino at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Turin, Baglioni (1893-1965) obtained a professorship of sculpture in that institute in 1936.
During his first year, he took part in the Turin competition for the monument to the Duke
of Aosta: his suggestion, presented together with Ettore Sottsass, was amongst the five selected for the penultimate test (in the end, the victory went to Eugenio Baroni and Arturo Martini) and the one which proved most popular with the critics.
He exhibited his work in Turin at the Promotrice delle Belle Arti in 1920 and at the Circolo degli artisti from 1922, and in Rome at the Sacred Art Exhibition in 1930.
His monument to the victims of the First World War for Piazza di Settimo Torinese was melted down in 1942 and replaced.

Baglioni’s intervention in Turin comes as part of the trend, which became consolidated in fascist Italy of the 1930s, on the one hand to flank monumental sculpture decoration with the work of architects, and on the other to bring it out beyond the field of celebrating
war victims and victory, to conquer different spaces, connected with social life: examples include Arturo Martini’s “Minerva” at Rome University and the sculpture of “Arno e la sua valle” (again, on a river theme) by Italo Griselli, on display at Florence station.

Cultural references

Piazza CLN is the most important external location for “Profondo rosso” (“Deep Red”), the famous thriller by Dario Argento filmed in 1974 in Turin, which came out the following year.
The building overlooking the square is home to both the protagonist Marc (David Hemmings) and the medium Helga Hullman (Macha Meril): right in the area in front of the Po fountain he is depicted at the final scene of the killing of the woman.
The square is also the stage used for the nocturnal meetings between Marc and Carlo (Gabriele Lavia), the son of the woman who was to be revealed to be the assassin (Marta, played by Clara Calamai).
The square is home to the “Blue Bar”, which has actually never existed: in an interview on the American DVD of the film, Argento revealed that the inspiration behind the bar’s form came from the famous painting by Edward Hopper “Nighthawks”.

On 8th July 2009, Piazza CLN hosted a public viewing of the film, attended by the director, whilst musician Claudio Simonetti provided live sound.