Date of Completion


Thesis Type

College of Arts and Science Honors


Art & Art History

First Advisor

Kelley Helmstutler DiDIo


Bernini, Baroque, Catholicism, Papacy, Fountain, Conversion


The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or the Four Rivers Fountain, depicts four seated figures encircling a towering obelisk crowned with a dove. Each figure personifies a river in each of one of the four known continents: The Nile is representative of Africa, the Ganges of Asia, the Rio de la Plata of South America, and finally the Danube of Europe. I argue that the Four Rivers Fountain is a monument celebrating the globalization of Catholicism during the 17th Century, specifically through conversion. The conversion depicted on the fountain takes place through the personified bodies of the four great rivers.

Bernini uses the circular format of the fountain and the figures to create a theatrical narrative of conversion to Catholicism under the influence of the papacy and the Catholic Church. The figures are composed to create a progression of four distinct phases of the conversion. The artist’s focus on conversion, specifically to Catholicism, was a product of Counter-Reformatory artistic aims, as well as the domestic and global political ambitions of the papacy. Bernini combined traditional Biblical imagery, associations with antiquity, and contemporary European beliefs about race and foreign cultures to further imbue the fountain with references to conversion and the supremacy of Catholicism.

Available for download on Sunday, May 10, 2026