Fontana, Domenick

, an eminent Italian architect, but perhaps more justly celebrated for his knowledge of mechanics, was born at Mili, on the lake of Lugano, in 1543, and came to Rome in his twentieth year, to study architecture. Sixtus V. to whom his merits were known when he was cardinal Montalti, was no sooner raised to the tiara, than he made him his architect. Among other great designs for ornamenting the city of Rome, this pontiff had conceived the project of digging out and re-erecting the famous obelisk, formed of one entire piece of granite, originally from Egypt, which had formerly decorated the circus of Nero, but was now partly buried near the wall of the sacristy of St. Peter’s. For this purpose he called together the ablest artists, engineers, and mathematicians, to consider of the means by which this vast relic of Roman grandeur, which was thirty-six feet high, and weighed above a million of pounds, could be removed, and placed on its pedestal in the front of the piazza of St. Peter’s. The machinery employed by the Egyptians in preparing this obelisk, or of conveying il to Rome, were so forgotten, that even tradition preserved no probable conjecture; but the ingenuity of Fontana was completely successful. He first produced before the pope a model of the machinery to be employed, and demonstrated the practicability of the operation; and having made all the necessary erections, the obelisk was raised and safely transported to the piazza, about 150 yards distance, and placed on its pedestal amidst the acclamations of the astonished populace of Rome, on Sept. 10, 1586, the same day that the duke of Luxembourg, ambassador from Henry IV. made his entry into | the city. It is said that Fontana undertook this work with the alternative of losing his head if it did not succeed, and that he had provided horses at every gate at Rome, to aid his escape, in case of any accident. Be this as it may, the pope revyarded him munificently. He created him a knight of the golden spur, gave him titles of nobility, and caused medals to be struck to his honour. To all this he added a pension of 2000 crowns, with reversion to his heirs; 3000 crowns as a gift, and all the materials employed on the undertaking, the value of which was computed at 20,000 crowns. Besides the erection of this obelisk, on which Fontana’s fame chiefly rests, he constructed three others, and built for the pope a superb palace near St. John of Lateran, and the library of the Vatican, and repaired some of the ancient monuments of art in Rome. His forte, indeed, was rather in mechanics than in original architecture, in which last he is said to have committed many mistakes; and either this, or the envy which his great enterprize created, is supposed to have raised him enemies, who at length persuaded pope Clement VIII. to dismiss him from his office of pontifical architect. In 1592, however, he was invited to Naples by the viceroy, the count Miranda, who made him royal architect and chief engineer. In that city he built the royal palace and some other considerable edifices, and died there in 1607. He published an account of the removal of the obelisk, entitled “Delia transportatione dell’ Obelisco Vaticano e delle fabriche Sixto V.Rome, 1590, fol. reprinted at Naples in 1603. He had a brother, John, who assisted him in his works at Rome, but who excelled chiefly in hydraulic machinery. He died at Rome in the year 1614. 1