persephone and hades statue

Persephone and hades statue
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”. [8] 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. ” [9]
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. [1] [2]

Persephone and hades statue
The Rape of Persephone
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.

Persephone and hades statue
This interest in transforming stone into skin is particularly evident in The Rape of Proserpina, a piece intended to portray a dramatic abduction (in the case of its title, the term “rape” refers to the act of kidnapping). “Pushed to the point of grazing the physical limits of marble,” Bernini’s attention to detail and interest in realism is evident in the work’s anatomical details. As the hand of Pluto (the sculpture’s male subject) grabs the thigh of Proserpina (the female figure), his grasping fingers appear to sink into her seemingly soft skin. Similarly, straining to overpower her, the muscles in his bent legs and tense arms protrude, while her flowing hair and twisting drapery suggest movement.
Alessandro Allori, “The Abduction of Proserpine,” 1570 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain)

Persephone and hades statue
The sculpture shows characteristics of the Baroque period – the movement is very dynamic which is embodied in the twisted contraposto or figura serpentinata. As a result of conflicting movements – Hades is hoisting her up, while Persephone is pushing him away – we notice that the composition of the bodies form the shape of an ’X’. Indeed, Bernini achieves a narrative progression by exploiting the stillness of his medium.
Bernini’s depiction of Persephone’s abduction (The Rape of Proserpina – here rape refers to abduction, while Proserpina is the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess) marks the artist’s mature period. The myth was well known at the time from various reliefs, however Bernini knew that the sculpture as a medium could carry a larger emotional context. How was he then to transform the ancient poetical invention of the mythological Rape of Persephone into a scultpural one? Although, Bernini did not chose the theme himself, as the sculpture was commissioned by his patron Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1621, he showed great inventive power which breathes life into a cold block of marble.

Persephone and hades statue
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.
This sculpture was commissioned by Cardinal Borghese of the Catholic Church and is still located in the Galleria Borghese—the room for which it was commissioned—in Rome, Italy. It depicts the Roman mythological story of the abduction and subsequent rape of Proserpina by the god, Pluto.


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