The first of Augsburg’s magnificent fountains, the Augustusbrunnen, was built between 1588 and 1594.
It was modelled by Hubert Gerhard (ca. 1540-1620) and finally cast in bronze by the city foundryman Peter Wagner († ca. 1595). The central, 250-centimetre-high figure on the pillar shows Emperor Augustus in middle age, in magnificent armour and with his right hand raised in an adlocutio gesture. A laurel wreath rests on his head, his tunic is decorated with lion heads, dolphins and tritons.
The richly decorated, four-sided pedestal is adorned with an inscription, now fire-gilded, facing each direction. Below are female herms made of bronze, whose breasts serve as gargoyles and at the same time symbolise abundance.
Putti with water-spouting fish in their hands are enthroned at the corners. They sit on volutes, to which a water-spouting lion’s head is attached. On the rim of the fountain lie four nude figures, which can be interpreted as the water deities and personifications of Augsburg’s most important bodies of water.
The Lech, an old bearded man, bears the attributes of pine cone, wolf skin and oar, which represent forest and hunting, but also navigation and abundance of fish. The Wertach, a man with a crown of ears of corn, more ears of corn and the quarter of a cogwheel, symbolises agriculture, mills and hammering and pumping stations.
The Singold, a young woman with a crown, jewellery and thin veil, holds an ornate jug and an overflowing cornucopia – as attributes for horticulture and goldsmithing. The oak-leaf-crowned fountain creek holding a net and fish, also depicted as a young woman, also refers to fishing.
An elaborately forged lattice surrounds the basin, crowned by spiral vines and spindle flowers.
It is not a living ruler, but Augustus, who is so important historically – especially for the city – who functions here as a bringer of peace in the conflict-ridden age of confessionalisation. The rest of the fountain decoration and the river gods underline this and symbolise fertility, prosperity and abundance.
In addition, the fountain – like the Wappner – illustrates the devoted bond between the city and the emperor.
The sculptor Hubert Gerhard distinguished himself almost pioneeringly for a technique transfer of the “Italian manner” to southern Germany, which is revealed in the public colossal sculpture, the placement of figures on the edge of the basin or even the shape of the basin.
The influences of Gerhard’s stay in Italy are also revealed, for example, in parts of the Wittelsbach Fountain of the Munich Residenz.
With the Augustus Fountain, not only was a work of art of European rank created in the centre of the Renaissance city, but also a document of a precarious as well as unique situation in Augsburg in the late 16th century.
The sophisticated combination of pictorial programme and composition makes the Augustus Fountain one of the masterpieces of the late Renaissance and early Mannerism. In 1749, the fountain pillar was renewed in rococo decor.
In the 1990s, all the figures were extensively restored and the Augustus figure was replaced by a copy.