The picture is based on a 15th-century text which describes a Roman fountain guarded by a statue of a nymph. Cranach, however, has changed the statue into a sensual creature, much more true to life than the idealised nudes of ancient Roman sculpture. The Latin inscription on the fountain reads: “I, the nymph of the sacred fountain, am resting, do not disturb my sleep”. In fact the nymph is not asleep, but looks out through half open eyes, and seems to smile invitingly.
Cranach was among the most important German painters of the early 16th century. He is noted in particular for his portraits and for his elongated, cheekily seductive female nudes. The Nymph was a popular image, as Cranach and his workshop, painted at least 17 versions of it. The symbol of a dragon with raised wings, which is painted on the fountain under the date, was the insignia of the Cranach workshop.