Sculpting Rome’s Waters: The Ganges

Kerry Longbottom

Fig. 13. Gianlorenzo Bernini, detail of “Fountain of the Four Rivers,” 1648-1651, Rome, Piazza Navona (source — Artstor)

Fig. 14. The sea-snake below the Ganges.
Gianlorenzo Bernini, detail of “Fountain of the Four Rivers,” 1648-1651, Rome, Piazza Navona (source — Artstor)

The Ganges, representing Asia, holds a long oar to signify its long but navigable waters.  Domenico’s account of the fountain describes the Ganges as “holding a leafy branch in its hand denoting the fertility of its land,”[1] and while no such branch exists today the figure is indeed surrounded by lots of lush vegetation.  A sea-snake accompanies the river, swirling underneath the figure between the oar and the spray of water coming from the base (fig. 14).  The Ganges seems to be unaware of the obelisk behind it, and instead stares passively across the piazza.  This pose has sometimes been attributed to the “static norm of French academism” since the figure was executed by Claude Poussin, but it is more likely that this is meant to represent the Ganges’ (and thereby all of Asia’s) ignorance of Christianity.[2]

 


[1] Bernini, Life, 163.

[2] Pope-Hennessy, Baroque Sculpture, 120.