the rape of persephone full.sculpture
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.  
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”. 
“The Rape of Proserpina” (side view). Image Credit: Wikipedia
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, “The Rape of Proserpina,” 1622, Marble. Commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Galleria Borghese, Rome, Italy. Image Credit: Columbia University
In the 17th century, artists in Italy began embracing an increasingly elaborate style. Known as the Baroque movement, this shift toward an ornate, over-the-top aesthetic is evident in both the art and architecture of the time, with master of materials Gian Lorenzo Bernini at the forefront. In addition to designing St. Peter’s Basilica (one of Italy’s most important monuments), Bernini was a celebrated sculptor, with The Rape of Proserpina among his most treasured creations.
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.”
The other masterpiece Bernini made in the period is the “Rape of Persephone”, also called “Pluto and Proserpina”. The word rape is a strong word- to Bernini in this work, it meant “abduction”. What we see is Pluto(also called Hades), the powerful god of the underworld, kidnapping Persephone and carrying her away. In true Bernini fashion, the act is captured at a moment of intense motion and struggle.She twists her body to free herself, resisting Pluto by pushing against his forehead with her hand. Her other arm is outstretched for help. It’s hard to see her face, but she screams in agony as visible tears, carved into the marble, slide from her eyes and down her cheeks. An elaborate drapery flows in the wind and captures the movement of the struggle as Pluto reaches across his body and grabs onto her thigh. Bernini envisioned the sculpture as an unfolding event, one that could be read from 3 sides. From the left, seen here, we see the initial struggle and resistance of Persephone. From the front, Pluto is seen arriving in the underworld, and appears in command of his captured victim. From the right, we see the aftermath and the three-headed dog Cerberus (who guards the underworld) along with Persephone’s tears.
It’s a truly amazing sculpture that boasts one of the most remarkable detail images in all of sculpture. As Pluto grabs Persephone’s thigh, Bernini has carved the veins and tendons below the skin of hands, and the indentation of flesh on her leg. It’s one of those images that’s so astonishingly real, it is often mistaken for a photograph when you see reproductions. All this is made even more impressive when you consider it’s stone, carved nearly 400 years ago by a sculptor only 23 years old.
The Rape of Persephone
Bernini chooses to depict the most dramatic, “pregnant” moment in the story; the scene is filled with heart-rending emotion. Bernini is famous for portraying the most poignant moment in a story and for communicating that event in the most dramatic way possible, by means of exuberant movement, emotive facial expressions, and feats of technical mastery.