statue of hades and persephone

Statue of hades and persephone
As with many of Bernini’s early works, it was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, possibly alongside a portrait of Scipione’s uncle Pope Paul V (who had died in 1621). Bernini received at least three payments for the statue, of value of at least 450 Roman scudi. The sculpture was begun in 1621 and completed in 1622. Quite soon after its completion, the statue was given by Scipione to Cardinal Ludovisi in 1622, who transported it to his villa. Purchased by the Italian State, it returned to the Villa Borghese in 1908. [3]
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”. [4] 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”. [5] 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. [6] Bernini’s own son and biographer, Domenico, called it “an amazing contrast of tenderness and cruelty”. [7]

Statue of hades and persephone
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.
When Hades fell in love with Persephone, the daughter of the goddess of nature, he decided to abduct her. Having rarely ventured outside of the Underworld, Hades decided to finally leave his dominion and travel above ground to pursue his love. Because her mother Demeter was not likely to approve of the match, it is said that Hades turned to Zeus for advice who then permitted him to abduct Persephone. While the girl was gathering flowers in the field, Hades caused the ground to split underneath her, and she slipped beneath the earth. When she found her daughter missing, Demeter neglected her duties causing famine. However, Helios, the god of sun, saw everything and eventually told Demeter what had happened. Pressed by the hungry people Zeus ordered Hades to return Persephone to her mother, but he had already tricked her into eating the food of the Underworld, the pomegranate seeds, tying her to his realm. In the end, it was decided that Persephone was to spend some months each year with her husband which caused the earth to become barren and the rest of the year she would be returned to her mother, causing the earth to flourish with life. Not only is this a myth about why we have seasons, but also a source of inspiration of many artworks.

Statue of hades and persephone
In The Rape of Persephone the figures twist and strain in opposing directions, testifying to a Mannerist influence; their tense struggle is imbued with an explosive dynamism.
Modern readers should note that in Bernini’s time the word “rape” signified “kidnapping”; thus, the sculpture thus represents the kidnapping of Persephone.

Statue of hades and persephone
This story revolves around the abduction of Proserpina, the daughter of Jupiter (Zeus in Greek mythology) and Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. While picking flowers, Proserpina was attacked by an enamored Pluto, the god of the dead, who burst from the earth in a chariot pulled by four black horses. While Ceres heard her daughter scream while being dragged into the underworld, she was unfortunately too late.
Recently, for example, Thomas Campbell, the director the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, praised the “compelling, hypnotizing, even inspiring” elements of the piece. “And yet . . . ” he added, “I am now struggling to recalibrate my thoughts on this work because a subject that I used to regard almost as an academic premise for virtuoso sculpture—abduction scenes are, after all, common in renaissance and baroque art—seems much less academic two years after the start of the ‘Me Too’ movement.”

Approx. 250 mm tall, 65mm base diameter
Known as Kore in Greek mythology and as Proserpina to the Romans, Kore was the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, and, she is the goddess of fertility and death.


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