The only sculpture originally slated for the Park
In Olmsted and Vaux’s Greensward Plan, the only sculpture was one atop the fountain at the center of Bethesda Terrace. The commission for the sculpture was given in 1863 to Emma Stebbins (1815-1882), an American-born sculptor working in Rome who happened to be the sister of a member of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park.
Stebbins’s eight-foot-tall fountain figure is an allegory for the life-saving, clean water of the Croton Aqueduct. According to Scripture (John 5:2-4), at Bethesda, near Jerusalem, an angel occasionally came down to stir the waters of a certain pool. The first person to step into the pool afterwards was cured of anything that ailed him. The main figure of Bethesda Fountain is the Angel of the Waters, about to stir. The four-foot-tall putti below her represent Purity, Health, Temperance, and Peace.