Acqua Felice: Fontana del Moise
watercolor  11" x 8"
Fontana del Acqua Felice
The "other" Moses of Rome
José Grave de Peralta
Toroazul Painting and Fine Arts
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The colossal figure of Sormani's Moses fills the middle niche. Narratively speaking, the
spiritual leader has just created an "aqueduct" of his own by striking water from a
desert rock with one of his huge hands, as he holds the Tablets of the Law in the other
one. (Bible experts point out that this is an error, since the water miracle came before
Moses's receiving the commandments).  
To me, the very subject of this sketch combines
two aspects of freehand drawing that I
tried to honor  while I sat in this busy piazza the better part of a day. These two aspects
are 1) the many laws or commandments one must respect to achieve balance and
legibility in the work, and 2) the sense of the truly miraculous event that is a freehand
drawing like this, especially as it combines architecture, anatomy, and narrative all at
once -- in other words, LIFE.
Rome has two great "Moses" sculptures -- first,
of course, Michelangelo's, in the church of Saint
Peter in Chains, which they say Freud would sit
in front of ...for hours on end!... in preparation
for his essay on that marble masterpiece. Rome's
"other Moses" is by Leonardo Sormani
(1550-1590); his work too- often disparaged as a
monstrosity by scholars and lay persons alike.
Sormani's Moses is one of the sculptures in the
corner-angle monument raised there by the Pope
who restored the old aqueduct from which he
drew the water to bring in to this part of the
City. Acqua Felice gets its name from Pope
Sixtus V, whose worldly name was Felice Peretti.

I have no interest in writing an essay on
Sormani or in defending the merits of his Moses
statue for Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) -- which I,
too,  have recently sat in front of for several
consecutive days ... first, doing an impulsive
watercolor "stain" of the entire monument (see
left image) , and then working on a more
deliberate series of sepia pencil drawings of each
of the three arches of the fountain.

The narratives of the first and third of the aqueduct's arches (above)  -- as well as their
correct "translation" into simple pencil images without too much shadow or
cross-hatching -- were equally compelling for me. On the left, the central figure of Aaron
giving the Jews manna in the desert during the Exodus was, to say the least, a challenge!
The trick was exactly how to prioritize certain lines over others in order to achieve
legibility of the overall group. In the relief of the arch on the right, I had to use more
crosshatching and shadows to highlight the central figure of Joshua as he chooses the
soldiers for the Biblical battle of Rephidim.  
Doing these drawings on different pages and on different days, too, it was not easy (or
possible!) for me to exactly match proportions or even viewpoint from one piece to the

These first
studies in pencil
of several
of the
columns of the Fontana Felice
were an important
step in the process
my coming to appreciate
Acqua Felice: detail of the Moses
sepia pencil 17" x 12"
 Acqua Felice: detail of Joshua
sepia pencil 17" x 12"
Acqua Felice: detail of Aaron
sepia pencil 17" x 12"
for Alessandra Ravaioli