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Deviled Bologna

Updated: Oct 26, 2018

Check out this image! This is the shadow thrown by the statue of Neptune built to represent Pope Pius IV in Bologna’s Piazza del Nettuno.

I took it the first time I visited Bologna. I’d arrived in the evening and headed straight to the piazza in search of a glass of wine and a panino.

And this is what I saw. A bunch of adults and kids were gathered around the statue, all oblivious and casual-like. Are they not seeing that specter on the wall?, I kind of shrieked to myself.

Is it me, or is this image pretty Satanic? Even the shadows of two of the folks loitering at the fountain add to the effect: They look like the damned trying to climb out of perdition.

A little about the statue and fountain:

The next morning, when the statue had a decidedly less sinister aspect, I put my flights of fancy aside and got some info from a University of Bologna professor who moonlights as a local guide. Getting the scoop rather than just looking blindly at a statue and moving on is always worth the effort in Italy.

He said the statue was erected between 1564 and 1566 and was intended to send a dual message to the people of Bologna, which formerly had been an independent comune, about the simultaneous protection and domination of the papacy: As Neptune rules the seas, the Pope rules the world — including, now, Bologna. The four angels at his feet stand for the Ganges, the Nile, the Amazon, and the Danube, the rivers of the four continents known at the time.The guide said the position of Neptune’s fingers is significant in that it shows that Bologna is under the pope’s thumb. I’m not sure I quite see that, but suppose it would make sense if that’s a coat-of-arms or symbol of Bologna directly beneath the thumb.

It’s no secret that popes in the Middle Ages often were not only power-hungry and bellicose but carnal, to boot. (I realize some folks might have a comment on my use of past tense there.) I don’t know if Pope Pio IV himself had that rep; from what I’ve read, it doesn’t seem he did. But the statue is sexy enough. Neptune cuts a pretty good figure, And then there are those four buxom mermaids at his feet…

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