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Five River Gods I (Three Conversing in the Foreground)

River gods are traditionally represented as old men, often crowned, leaning against an urn from which water pours. The subject gained attention in 1651 when Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers was unveiled in the Piazza Navona in Rome. It celebrated the four rivers that ran through the four continents under papal authority: the Nile of Africa, the Danube of Europe, the Ganges of Asia, and the Plata of the Americas.

This etching by Salvator Rosa—a painter, poet, and printmaker active in Naples, Rome, and Florence—adds a fifth river to the assembly, most likely the Tiber, the principal river that runs through Rome. Produced contemporaneously with Bernini’s fountain, the etching demonstrates the power of Bernini’s work. Rosa produced two variations on this theme in a similar shape and size, both featuring river gods dumping large jugs of water.

Salvator Rosa
Italian, 1615–1673
Five River Gods I (Three Conversing in the Foreground)
Etching on paper
Image/sheet: 3 13/16 x 8 ¼ in. (9.7 x 21.0 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Collection of Diether Thimme, 98.294