hades and persephone statue
The Rape of Proserpina (Italian: Ratto di Proserpina) is a large Baroque marble sculptural group by Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, executed between 1621 and 1622. Bernini was only 23 years old at its completion. It depicts the Abduction of Proserpina, who is seized and taken to the underworld by the god Pluto.  
However, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when Bernini’s reputation was at a low ebb, critics found fault with the statue. The eighteenth-century French visitor Jerome de la Lande allegedly wrote: “Pluto’s back is broken; his figure extravagant, without character, nobleness of expression, and its outline bad; the female one no better”.  Another French visitor to the Villa Ludovisi was equally critical, stating: “The head of Pluto is vulgarly gay; his crown and beard give him a ridiculous air, while the muscles are strongly marked and the figure poses. It is not a true divinity, but a decorative god. ” 
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.
Measuring nearly 7.5 feet tall, the piece is carved from Carrara marble, a material derived from Tuscany and historically used by ancient Roman builders and, more recently, by Mannerist and Renaissance artists. The softness of this high-quality marble lended itself to Bernini’s craft, as he “prided himself on being able to give marble the appearance of flesh.”
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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Gian Lorenzo Bernini
These figures are hardly the gritty street walkers that populate Caravaggio’s paintings, but certain details are breathtaking for the verisimilitude, especially the dimpling of Persephone’s flesh as Pluto’s fingers dig into her thigh and waist.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, “The Rape of Proserpina,” 1622, Marble. Commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy. Image Credit: Columbia University
This depiction captures the scene at the climax of the moment; Pluto is lifting Proserpina into the air, and she is visibly fighting back. This snapshot in time contains a considerable amount of life-like detail. These details, like the expression of fear on Proserpina’s face or the sense of overwhelming force created by the muscular form of Pluto, inform the viewer and tell an entire story with a single moment in time. This dynamic representation, a trait developed by the Baroque masters, 7 creates a vivid and believable representation of this myth.