Sculpting Rome’s Waters: The Nile

Kerry Longbottom

Fig. 15. Gianlorenzo Bernini, detail of “Fountain of the Four Rivers,” 1648-1651, Rome, Piazza Navona (source — Artstor)

Fig. 16. Gianlorenzo Bernini, detail of “Fountain of the Four Rivers,” 1648-1651, Rome, Piazza Navona (source — Artstor)

Representing Africa, the Nile is accompanied by a growling lion that appears to be kneeling to drink the water of the fountain (fig. 16).  Bernini also demonstrates his attention to correct detail by placing a palm tree adjacent to the figure.[1]  Domenico states that the Nile, “with its head covered by a cloth, gives the impression of wishing to hide the identity of its source from us,” as its source had not yet been discovered during his father’s time.[2]  The shrouding of the Nile’s face also serves to signify that it, like the Ganges, is completely unaware of the obelisk behind it, therefore marking Africa as another of the ignorant parts of the world unable to see the divine light that is so obvious to Bernini’s Catholic audience.

 


[2] Avery, Genius of the Baroque, 201.

[2] Bernini, Life, 163.