Angel of the Waters

Angel statue on Bethesda fountain — Image by © Antonio M. Rosario/Tetra Images/Corbis

Angel of the Waters is an eight-foot bronze sculpture designed by Emma Stebbins in 1868, the first woman to receive a public commission for a major work of art in New York City.  Unveiled in 1873, it was the only sculpture commissioned during the original design of Central Park.  The statue depicts a female winged angel touching down upon the top of Bethesda Fountain.  Stebbins designed the statue to celebrate the Croton Aqueduct, opened in 1842, that provided fresh water to the city that had been plagued by infectious diseases from polluted waters. Thus, the angel carries a lily in one hand, representing purity, and with the other hand she blesses the water. At the dedication, the brochure quoted a verse from the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 5:2-4: “Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called….Bethesda….whoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.”  In Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1858 Greensward Plan, the terrace was called The Water Terrace, but after the unveiling of the angel, the name was changed to Bethesda Terrace. Location: Mid-Central Park at 72nd Street