The Fountain of Neptune (Fontana di Nettuno) in Bologna dates back to 1565, and was created by Jean de Boulogne, also known as Giambologna. It was a controversial artwork when it was created, and still raises eyebrows today. map
The fountain, also known as "The Giant" is located exactly in the ancient center of the city, at the intersection of the 2 main roads in the city in Roman times.
The four lactating mermaids (or nereids) are depicted as riding dolphins while expressing milk from their breasts. The entire sculpture was created in bronze and stone in the years 1563 to 1567 by Flemish-born sculptor Giambologna. It was commissioned in celebration of Pope Pius IV by the Pope’s nephew Charles Borromeo.
It has been the center of some controversy from the very beginning because of its sexually explicit imagery ... the nude Neptune and the nude lactating mermaids expressing milk from their breasts.
In fact sculptures of both male and female nudes and sculptures of lactating women are found in many cultures and countries. Additionally, in the 1500s the Mannerism style was in vogue, and this fountain exemplifies this style.
Mannerism was characterized by being explicit more than harmonious and elegant, and a lactating woman was seen as a symbol of Mother Nature, of fertility and of health. Breast milk itself was also seen as a symbol of wisdom.
Nonetheless, it says something - and I'm not sure what - that a public artwork commissioned by a cardinal of the church has been able to deliver shock-value for almost 450 years.
● The Mermaids of Earth coffee-table book: See page 68 in the book about this sculpture.