The Nymph of the Fountain

WAG 1223


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. This image shows God crowning Mary as the Queen of Heaven. This event is not described in the Bible but was a popular subject in art. This work was once part of the top of a larger altarpiece. The elaborate decoration on the frame is not fully original. It was probably altered in the 19th century. This is one of the artworks presented by the Liverpool Royal Institution. Liverpool’s economic development grew directly from Britain’s involvement with transatlantic slavery: the kidnapping, enslavement and forced migration of people from West Africa to the Americas and many to the Caribbean. Many members of the Royal Institution made their fortunes directly through the trade or indirectly through the wider economy. This wealth was largely how they were able to bring rare art and treasures, such as this, to the city.