La Fontana delle Tartarughe the turtle fountain - is a Roman fountain from the late sixteenth century(1585). Its design was made by the papal architect Giacomo della Porta and the young Florentine artist Taddeo Landini, and the patron of the fountain was Muzio Mattei.
This thesis sets out to present a new interpretation of the iconography of the Fontana delle Tartarughe. The bronze turtles, that have given the fountain its name, were not added to the fountain until nearly eighty years after the fountains original completion, in 1659. The turtles were in other words not a part of the original iconography.
Prior interpretations of the iconography seems to lean towards the more general term Festina Lente make haste slow. This interpretation was a common theme for the late Roman Renaissance and Mannerist monuments, but that does not exclude another iconographical theme aswell. And the Festina lente interpretation does not explain the odd contraposto pose which the young bronze boys in the fountain have, their lack of attributes or their nudity.
In this thesis I argue that the fountain originally was a representation of the homoerotic antique Roman myth of Jupiter and Ganymede. There exists a long iconographical tradition where this myth is represented by Jupiter in the shape of an eagle, and the young shepherd Ganymede, most frequently depicted in the nude, in a strange contraposto, and with a lack of attributes. This iconographical tradition goes back to Antiquity, and was an important theme all through the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Mannerism.
There also seems to be a thematical link between this iconographical theme in the fountain, and the addition of the turtles. Through the Roman syncretism Jupiter Sabazio there excists a link between the turtle and Jupiter, and between the turtle and Ganymede. In this sense, the four turtles in Fontana delle Tartarughe might be interpreted as an extention of the original iconographical programme of the fountain.
In this thesis I have also detected that this myth seems to have been a part of a complex iconographical programme that is represented in at least twelve of the Mattei family s (the patron of the fountain) decorations; in amongst other a canvas by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, a fountain by Gianlorenzo Bernini, a castle by Baldassarre Peruzzi and in other decorations in the buildings and monuments in possession of the Mattei. This iconographical programme possibly depicting the myth of Jupiter and Ganymede, is detectable during five generations of Mattei: in a period of over a hundred years, from the 1542 to 1643.