Thomas Cole (American, 1801–1848)
Oil on canvas
19 3/8 by 16 1/8 in. (49.2 x 41 cm)
Gift of Samuel P. Avery, Jr., 1904 (04.29.2)
Cole often painted fanciful landscapes, but this work may be his most enigmatic. Its main feature evolved from sketches the artist made in Italy in 1832 of fantastical fountains, bearded with foliage, which were evidently inspired by actual ones he saw at sites in Florence, Rome, and Tivoli, possibly informed further by the basinlike appearance of volcanic lakes near Rome such as Nemi and Albano. The artist himself inscribed the title on the back of the painting; thus, in including the sun behind the vastly amplified fountain, he may have been alluding to the mythological titan Helios, who rode a goblet through the nocturnal sky before mounting a chariot at dawn to illuminate the day.