Bethesda Fountain is the central feature on the lower level of the terrace, constructed in 1859-64, which is enclosed within two elliptical balustrades.
The pool is centered by a fountain sculpture designed by Emma Stebbins in 1868 and unveiled in 1873. Stebbins was the first woman to receive a public commission for a major work of art in New York City. The bronze, eight-foot statue depicts a female winged angel touching down upon the top of the fountain, where water spouts and cascades into an upper basin and into the surrounding pool. It was the only statue in the park called for in the original design. Beneath her are four four-foot cherubs representing Temperance, Purity, Health, and Peace. Also called the Angel of the Waters, the statue refers to the Gospel of John, Chapter 5 where there is a description of an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda, giving it healing powers. In Central Park the referent is the Croton Aqueduct opened in 1842, providing the city for the first time with a dependable supply of pure water: thus the angel carries a lily in one hand, representing purity, and with the other hand she blesses the water below.
The base of the fountain was designed by the architect of all the original built features of Central Park, Calvert Vaux, with sculptural details, as usual, by Jacob Wrey Mould. In Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted's 1858 Greensward Plan, the terrace at the end of the Mall overlooking the naturalistic landscape of the Lake was simply called The Water Terrace, but after the unveiling of the angel, its name was changed to Bethesda Terrace.
The panels of carving in the abstracted organic style propounded by Owen Jones, a mentor of the sculptor Jacob Wrey Mould are organized by an iconographical program of themes: the Seasons, the Times of Day, the Ages of Mankind. Considerable latitude was offered the carvers executing the work, following Ruskinian principles.
Bethesda Terrace became a site for an outdoor luncheon restaurant at the end of the 1960s, then became a congregating spot for the Hair generation before devolving into a drug-trafficking venue in the 1970s. The fountain, which had been dry for decades, was restored in its initial campaign, 1980–81, by the Central Park Conservancy as the centerpiece of its plan to renovate Central Park. The Terrace, designed by Vaux with sculptural decoration by Mould, was restored in the following season, its stonework disassembled, cleaned, deteriorated surfaces removed, restored and patched and reset.
Resodding, and fifty new trees, 3,500 shrubs and 3,000 ground cover plants specified by Philip Winslow followed in 1986, most of which, having matured into dense blocks, were removed in 2008, to make way for plants native to the United States. The Minton encaustic tiles of the ceiling of the arcade between the flanking stairs, designed by Mould, were removed in 1987, cleaned, restored, completed with additional new tiles and reinstalled in 2007.
Following an illustration in an 1891 book by the Superintendent of Planting in Central Park, Calvert Vaux's assistant and partner, Samuel Parsons, today in summer, the lower basin once again has water lilies, lotus and papyrus, grown in removable pots.
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Famous quotes containing the word fountain:
“So the soul, that drop, that ray
Of the clear fountain of eternal day,
Could it within the human flower be seen,
Remembering still its former height,
Shuns the sweet leaves and blossoms green;
And, recollecting its own light,
Does, in its pure and circling thoughts, express
The greater heaven in an heaven less.”
—Andrew Marvell (16211678)