Fountain of the Four Rivers

In the Piazza Navona, one fountain represents four rivers and their continents: “the Nile represents Africa, with its veiled head because the source of the river had yet to be discovered, the Ganges Asia, the Danube Europe and Rio de la Plata, the Americas.” Commissioned by the pope, Bernini’s swirling style of graceful movement animated by water is especially noted in some of the animals that seem to be leaping in and out of the pool below. Four male figures beneath a central towering obelisk appears to celebrate the masculine, and reminds me of the ancient practice of blessing the four directions. In circling the fountain it could equally bring to mind Pliny’s words about the four elements: “The highest of these is supposed to be fire, and hence proceed the eyes of so many glittering stars. The next is that spirit . . . air. It is by the force of this vital principle, pervading all things and mingling with all, that the earth, together with the fourth element, water, is balanced in the middle of space.”

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