NYC – Central Park: Bethesda Fountain

NYC - Central Park: Bethesda Fountain
Heart Disease
In their 1858 Greensward Plan, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux called the architectural heart of the Park "The Water Terrace," for its placement beside the Lake and the grand fountain in the center. Once the Angel of the Waters fountain was unveiled in 1873, however, the area became forever known as Bethesda Terrace. One of the most photographed fountains in the world, The Angel of Waters, know commonly referred to as Bethesda Fountain, was the only sculpture commissioned as part of the original design of the Park. The artist, Emma Stebbins, was the first woman to receive a commission for a major public work in New York City; the fact that she was the sister of Col. Henry G. Stebbins, the President of the Central Park Board of Commissioners, does not detract from her accomplishment or talent.

The sculpture, is a neoclassical winged female figure who symbolically blesses the water of the fountain with her one hand and carries a lily, the symbol of purity, in the other. The four figures below represent Peace, Health, Purity, and Temperance. The fountain celebrates the opening of the Croton Aqueduct, which brought fresh water to New Yorkers in 1842. Stebbins likened the healing powers of the angel to that of the clean and pure Croton water, delicately cascading down the fountain, that brought health to the people of New York City.

At the dedication, the artist's brochure quoted the Biblical verse from the Gospel of St. John 5:2-4: "Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called… Bethesda…whoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had."

Central Park was designated a scenic landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1974.

National Historic Register #66000538 (1966)

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