Donnerbrunnen Fountain, Vienna:
Baroque Fountain on Neuer Markt Square

The Donnerbrunnen is a Baroque fountain in central Vienna, situated on the centre of the Neuer Markt square. Sadly, the square is still used as a parking lot and there is a lot of traffic, which harms the appeal of both square and fountain. Many tourists pass the Donnerbrunnen on the way to or from the Imperial Crypt under the Capuchin Church, which can be found right at the Neuer Markt. The Donnerbrunnen Fountain is actually called "Providentiabrunnen", which is an odd name hard to remember; the artist in charge was the famous sculptor Georg Raphael Donner, thus the much more convenient name of Donnerbrunnen.

The fountain became internationally famous in 1995, when it featured as a Baroque fountain in the Generation-X movie "Before Sunrise" with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. It was built after 1737 upon order of the city of Vienna, which is unusual for a Baroque piece of art - at the Vienna of this time, only Emperor, rich nobility and the church could afford artwork. Georg Raphael Donner created the models for the casts, Johann Nikolaus Moll created the figures.

They were presented on the name day of Emperor Karl VI in 1739. Under the rule of Empress Maria Theresia, the Donner fountain was suddenly considered to be too naked and rude for a public display. The artist Johann Martin Fischer was ordered to smelt the sculptures. Fischer recognised the outstanding quality and value of the Donnerfountain and renovated it instead of destroying it. In 1801, they were restored at their original site.

Allegories of the Donnerbrunnen: Providentia & Co

At the centre of the Donnerbrunnen, you can see the allegory of Providentia, which means foresight or destiny. As an allegory, one could interpret it as the foresight and wisdom of good governance - at least according to an interpretation that I read and that I consider a bit far-fetched, but anyway. In this case, Providentia foresees great water supplies for Vienna - this is essentially the motive of the fountain.

The four figures that surround Providentia represent the four main rivers of the Austrian heartlands: The two male ones those of Upper Austria, the two female ones those of Lower Austria. River allegories are not unusual for Vienna, their origins can be tracked back to playful garden fountains of the Manierist period. For other examples in Vienna, see the Austria Fountain on the Freyung or the four fountains along the Albertina bastion.

Austrian Rivers that are Depicted in the Donnerbrunnen

The rivers of the Donnerbrunnen look as such: Traun is a young man with a trident, catching a fish at the base of the fountain; Enns is an old ferryman, resting against a rock - thereby underlining the importance of the river Enns as a traffic line from the Alps. Ybbs is a resting girl with a jug; March is a woman resting against a relief depicting a battle - showing the important role that the March played as a natural border.

By 1873, the Donnerbrunnen figures were in a bad state. The originals were replaced with copies made of bronze at the fountain; today, you can adore the original figures at the Marble Hall of the Lower Belvedere Palace as the showpiece of the Baroque collection in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. During the Second World War, even the copies were dismantled and stored safely. The Donnerbrunnen was re-opened in all its former glory in 1947. Before becoming a movie-star of international significance, the Donnerbrunnen was a popular meeting spot for Vienna′s useless youth of the 1980ies.

Attractions nearby are numerous, so I will limit this selection to those in a five-minute walking distance: The Kärntnerstraße, the Palais Lobkowitz with the Theatre Museum, the Staatsoper (National Opera), the Hofburg with its many attractions, the Dorotheerkirche and Dorotheum, the Jewish Museum, the Albertina and Film Museum, the Palais Pallavicini, Malteserkirche, the Deutschordenskirche and the Graben with the Pestsäule.

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Further Reading

On the movie "Before Sunrise"

Pictures of the Donnerbrunnen

Old & new pictures of the Donnerbrunnen