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New York City's Bethesda Water Fountain
The Most-Photographed Water Fountain in Central Park
The Bethesda Water Fountain in New York City’s Central Park is one of the most photographed water fountains in the entire world. The neoclassical bronze water fountain is the only sculpture commissioned as part of the original design of New York's Central Park. Designed by Emma Stebbens, also known for a sculpture of educator Horace Mann that stands outside the Boston State House, the Bethesda Water Fountain is one of seven ornamental water fountains in Central Park. Stebbins was the first woman to receive a sculptural commission in New York City. Stebbins was also the sister of the president of the Central Park Board of Commissioners, Col. Henry G. Stebbins. The neo-classical sculpture was dedicated in 1873.
An eight foot gilded bronze statue tops the famous water fountain, a neoclassical robed and winged female angel alighting on the fountain’s top. With one hand she blesses the waters below, and with the other carries the symbol of purity, a lily. Surrounding the supporting basin holding the statue, encased by the fountain’s cascading waters, are four four-foot cherubic figures representing Peace, Health, Purity, and Temperance. The cherubs stand against a stem modeled with cattails supporting the fountain’s upper basin. The waters collect below them in another supporting basin, and then flow further downward into the fountain’s base, a large, circular stone pool. The base of the fountain was designed by Calvert Vaux with detail work by Jacob Wrey Mould.
Placed in Central Park in recognition of the opening of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842, the Bethesda Water Fountain was placed within "The Water Terrace" of Central Park in 1873, beside the lake and the grand fountain in its center, commemorating and blessing the arrival of clean and pure water to the people of New York City. In 1842, at the dedication of the fountain, the artist's brochure quoted a verse from the Gospel of 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." Since its dedication, the Angel of the Waters has been most commonly known as the Bethesda Fountain. The area surrounding the gilded bronze fountain and its large blue stone basin is known as the Bethesda Terrace.
The Bethesda Water Fountain’s classical romantic splendor has made the fountain complex the most iconic item in the whole of Central Park. This stunning work of art has appeared in many feature films and receives millions of visitors year-round, who gather to experience the inspirational beauty of nature and water.
The Bethesda Water Fountain complex is considered to be one of the great works of nineteenth century American sculpture. After being dry for decades, the fountain was restored to its original splendor in a project that began in 1980, as the centerpiece of a plan to renovate Central Park. Bethesda Terrace, which surrounds the Bethesda Water Fountain, was restored the following season. The water fountain was cleaned, repatinated, and sealed with a protective coating in 1988, and is washed and waxed annually.
Located at about 72nd St., The Bethesda Fountain is a favorite site for photographic shoots and romantic walks. It is possibly the most frequently featured Central Park monument in popular films, such as “Bullets over Broadway”, “One Fine Day”, “Ransom”, “Tommy Boy”, and “Hair”. The movie Godspell, made in 1973, features a scene of disciples dancing and splashing around in the fountain’s pool while John the Baptist, played by David Haskell, sings “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” Other movies that feature the Bethesda fountain include “Angels in America” by Tony Kushner, “The Producers” by Mel Brooks, and the 1988 music video “They’ll Need a Crane” by They Might Be Giants.
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