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Fontaine de la Fédération, Toulon, France
Bethesda Fountain, New York, USA - Fantastic Fountains
481    Dibyendu Banerjee    19/07/2023

The Bethesda Fountain, measuring twenty-six feet high by ninety-six feet wide and featuring an eight feet tall neoclassic sculpture, known as the Angel of the Waters, standing atop four small cherubim representing health, purity, temperance and peace, is the spectacular central point of attraction of the Bethesda Terrace, located in the heart of Central Park, New York City.

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Considered one of the largest fountains in the City of New York, the fountain, along with the statue, is the masterpiece of sculptor Emma Stebbins, the first woman commissioned for a major artwork in the city. Apart from that, it was the only sculpture sanctioned as part of the early design and construction phase of Central Park, an urban park in New York City, located between the Upper East Side and Upper East Side of Manhattan. Bethesda Terrace forms the northern end of Central Park and its lower level, formally known as the Esplanade and contains the beautiful Bethesda Fountain in the centre.

bethesda fountain USA

Emma Stebbins, born in New York in 1815, was living in Rome with her lover Charlotte Cushman, the leading actress of the American and British stages, when she was awarded the project in 1863. She was one of the lesbian artists to form a group of same-sex relationships, circled around Charlotte Cushman and known as The Female Jolly Bachelors, which also included English writer, journalist and part-time actress Matilda Mary Hays, American sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis, also known as Wildfire, Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, known as the first female professional sculptor, the first generation of lesbians to forge careers in their fields of arts.

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Inspired by the Gospel of John retelling the story of an angel bestowing healing properties on the Pool of Bethesda, Emma Stebbins modelled the figure of the angel after her partner, the actress Charlotte Cushman and worked on the design of the statue in Rome, from 1861 until its completion in 1868.

bethesda fountain USA

Emma Stebbins’ sculptural group of the Bethesda Fountain features the eight feet (2.4 m) bronze statue of a female winged angel, named the Angel of the Waters, touching down upon the top of the fountain, where water spouts and cascades into an upper basin, above four small cherubim representing health, purity, temperance and peace.

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The graceful Angel of the Waters, depicted standing on the upper basin, is carrying a lily in one of her hands, while her other hand is outstretched, as if in the act of delivering a blessing on the water pouring from around her feet and into the basin at the bottom of the fountain, an appropriate symbol of the healthful benefits provided by the water from the Croton Aqueduct, opened in 1842 and stored in Central Park reservoirs. While the base of the fountain was designed by Calvert Vaux with sculptural details by Mould, the lower basin, containing lotus, water lilies and papyrus, was inspired by an illustration in an 1891 book by Samuel Parsons, assistant and partner of Calvert Vaux, as well as, the Superintendent of Planting in Central Park.

bethesda fountain USA
bethesda fountain USA

The Bethesda Fountain commemorates the opening of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842, introducing fresh water to New York City from Westchester County and stored in Central Park reservoirs, after years of sanitation issues and public health problems due to the outbreaks of numerous devastating diseases, because of contaminated drinking water. During the dedication ceremony of the fountain in 1873, Stebbins confessed that the angel of the fountain was inspired by a Bible passage in the Gospel of John that describes an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda and giving it blessed healing powers. Later, the area came to be known as Bethesda, after the name of the fountain.

Fontaine de la Fédération, Toulon, France
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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