bernini pluto and persephone
Most critics have been quick to praise the work. Rudolf Wittkower noted: “representations of such rape scenes depended on Bernini’s new, dynamic conception for the next hundred and fifty years”.  Howard Hibbard makes similar comments noting the realistic effects that Bernini had achieved via carving hard marble, such as the “texture of the skin, the flying ropes of hair, the tears of Persephone and above all the yielding flesh of the girl”.  The choice of incident to depict the story is commonly cited as well: Pluto’s hands encircle the waist of Proserpina just as she throws her arms out in an attempt to escape.  Bernini’s own son and biographer, Domenico, called it “an amazing contrast of tenderness and cruelty”. 
Others have remarked on the twisted contrapposto or figura serpentinata pose of the group. While reminiscent of Mannerism, particularly Giambologna’s The Rape of the Sabine Women, Bernini permits the viewer to absorb the scene from one single viewpoint. While other views provide further details, a spectator can see the desperation of Proserpina and the lumbering attempts of Pluto to grab her. This was in contrast to the Mannerist sculpture of Giambologna, which required the spectator to walk around the sculpture to gain a view of each of character’s expression.  
“The Rape of Proserpina” (detail). Image Credit: Wikipedia
The intricate, lifelike details with which Bernini imbued the sculpture further this story and give it an emotional depth that connects with the viewer. The way Proserpina’s hand presses into and distorts Pluto’s face, and the impression that Pluto’s hand makes in Proserpina’s leg, serve to tell the story. These details inform us of the unwanted advances, as well as the sexual nature of the scene. The fact that the bodies are partially clothed, their genitalia hidden, only adds to the sensuality of this moment. The story is told through a corporeal representation that reaches to the core passions of every human being. The emphasis on the visceral is a common expository technique in Baroque sculpture. 7
Crafted in the early 17th century, this marble sculpture illustrates several of Bernini’s strong suits, including his mastery of anatomy and ability to evoke both dynamism and drama. While these achievements continue to garner praise for the sculptor today, its unsavory subject matter has cast a controversial shadow over the work—though it remains a quintessential highlight of both the Baroque era and of marble sculpture as a whole.
Bernini completed The Rape of Prosperina between 1621 and 1622. Though the Naples-born artist was just 23 years old at the time, he was already seeing success as a budding artist. While he wouldn’t complete his architectural masterpiece, St. Peter’s Basilica, for over 40 years, he had already carved out a name for himself in the early 1620s as a celebrated sculptor with four masterpieces: David; Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius; Apollo and Daphne; and, of course, The Rape of Proserpina.
This stunning sculpture exemplifies the best of the baroque and demonstrates Bernini’s ability to handle marble and produce credible figures. Like his other works, the Rape of Persephone is fraught with emotion and tension, achieving a hitherto unseen level of life-like action. Bernini’s pieces can always be recognized by the minute attention to detail, grandiose theatricality, and ornate design.
Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissioned The Rape of Persephone from the 23-year-old Bernini in 1621, giving it to Cardinal Ludovisi in 1622. In 1908, the Italian state purchased the work and relocated it to the Galleria Borghese.
Hades’s grin, as opposed to Persephone’s marble tears, feels displaced, and in the words of Bernini’s own son Domenico, it is „an amazing contrast of tenderness and cruelty“. Hades’s determined stride and furrowed brows are contrasted with her vulnerable pose. The physical and emotional dynamism is further seen in Persephone’s tensed toes, her curled hands and fingers unwilling to touch her abductor telling us of her distress and disgust. Her yielding flesh under Hades’s pressed fingers show us how delicate she is as we half-expect her to scream forgetting we are looking at the hard cold marble. What we see is a moment in time. A moment, when Hades stepped forward and shifted his weight onto his front leg, couldn’t last long and we know he must press on; A moment when Persephone began stretching away from Hades, and seeing his flexing muscles we know he will grab her tighter. Noticing Cerberus, the three-headed guardian of the Underworld, we know his mission is almost over, and the well known story continues in our minds long after we have stopped looking at the sculpture.
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