Advertising Gone Wrong – Sixtus V in the Image of Moses: The Fontana it Dell’acqua Felice as a Failed Communication Channel

Tamar Cholcman, Dafna Maharshak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The public fountains in Rome built under the patronage of the Popes after the Council of Trent (1543-1665), played a part in the Church’s efforts to strengthen papal authority and ‘advertise’ the Catholic position. Placed in the midst of busy streets among the city hubbub – similar to modern advertisement – they needed, first, to attract the attention of passersby from their daily activities; and, second, to apply and appeal to very different crowds and sectors of society.
Modern communications theory enables the taking into account of all these changing communication environments as well as the changing awareness and knowledge of the crowds they address, by enabling a simultaneous consideration of the source, the message, and the receiver. The way and manner in which the fountain’s visual imagery conveyed its messages to the different audiences is analyzed in reference to the three components of advertisement (picture, headline, text), which suggests also a consideration of the viewing order. The spatial position of the fountain is used thus as a methodological framework for reading the imagery by considering its spatial order (near, far), linear order (first, last), and observational state (static, dynamic).
Using modern marketing communication theory we thus propose a multilayered reading of the Fontana dell’Acqua Felice, or the Moses Fountain (1587) as a case study. The analysis of the Acqua Felice fountain reveals the way in which the sender conveyed a clear message of the Church’s strength, of victory and of truth to the receiver by using similarity of meaning – through visual means taken from the cultural and visual world of the target audience. This reading also discloses, however, the presence of a distraction element (noise). In the Acqua Felice fountain, this factor had critical implications, in that it inverted the entire message. Intended by the Pope to glorify his and the Church’s power, the fountain instead became a source of mockery and scorn.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-71
Number of pages26
JournalStudies in Visual Arts and Communication: an international journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Acqua Felice
  • Baroque sculpture
  • Communication Channel
  • Giovanni Fontana
  • Moses
  • Prospero Antichi
  • Rome
  • Sixtus V
  • Triumph
  • advertising
  • communication theory
  • fountain
  • frames of reference
  • pasquinata
  • similarity of meaning


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