Day 1 (Rome) – Fountain of Four Rivers (Bernini, 1651)

 

The Four Rivers Fountain in the Piazza Navona in Rome is one of Bernini’s most celebrated works. Designed and built between 1648 and 1651 for Pope Innocent X Pamphili, the fountain commemorates the pope’s redirection of water from the Acqua Vergine (one of Rome’s principal water supplies) to the square in front of his family palace, the Palazzo Pamphili. Bernini’s fountain incorporates an ancient Egyptian obelisk, which had been recovered from the Circus Maxentius in Rome, with a tall stone base. Set on the rocks are four large figures symbolizing the four great rivers of the four quarters of the world — the Danube for Europe, the Nile for Africa, the Ganges for Asia, and the Plata for the Americas.  Note that atop the obelisk is a cross, representing Christianity, and the rest of the statue is Pagan.

The Ganges in Asia: This apathetic river god looks away from the light of the Church, representing the spiritual ignorance of this hedonistic land

Fountain of the Four Rivers

The Río de la Plata in America: Although he throws his hands back in surprise, this representative of the newly converted lands has begun to see the light

The Danube in Europe: The most “civilized” and cultured of the figures, the Danube looks toward and embraces the light of the lord.


The Nile in Africa: Bernini depicts the Nile with its head covered because at that time, the source of the river was unknown. Symbolically, this also refers to what the Catholic world saw as the dark ignorance of the “pagan” world: the sculpture has not seen the light of Christianity

Fountain of the Four Rivers

Video  (Background noise from the water)

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