The Rape of Proserpina
Rape of Proserpina (Ratto di Proserpina) is a large sculptural group of marble in the Baroque style, created by Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini and performed between 1621 and 1622. Bernini was only twenty-three years old when he created this artwork. It depicts the Abduction of Proserpina, where Proserpina is captured and taken to the underworld by the god Pluto.
The sculpture was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, possibly together with a portrait of Scipione’s uncle Pope Paul V (who died in 1621). Bernini got at least three payments for the statue worth at least 450 Roman scudi. The creation of sculpture was begun in 1621 and finished in 1622. Shortly after its completion, Scipione gave a statue to Cardinal Ludovisi in 1622, who transferred it to his villa. Later, acquired by the Italian state, it returned to the Villa Borghese in 1908.
The myth about the abduction of Proserpine
According to Roman mythology, Proserpine was the daughter of Ceres, the goddess of fertility, and Jupiter, the patron sky and thunder. Once, when Proserpine was collecting flowers with her friends, Pluto, the god of the underworld and the dead ruler, saw her and fell madly in love with her.
Riding a chariot drawn by four black horses, Pluto grabbed Proserpina and carried her to the underworld. Hearing the cry of her daughter, Ceres rushed to help her, but she was late. Ceres sought all the land for her daughter. As soon as she realized that Pluto had kidnapped Proserpine, she got angry and made the land dry up, and the harvest failed. Jupiter saw from heaven that the earth is barren and dead. He decided to intervene, and in the end, a deal was made: Proserpine would spend half a year with her mother and half a year in the underworld with Pluto.
According to this myth, Ceres is so sad when Proserpine is in the underworld that she takes her gifts from the world and winter comes. In the spring, when Proserpina reunites with her mother, Ceres makes things grow again
Characters of the sculpture have easily readable emotions and expressive faces. Proserpine struggles to avoid Pluto’s excessive erotic fury, while Pluto’s body is rather powerful and muscular. In addition, its masculinity is emphasized by its thick beard and wild hair.
Bernini himself said that the marble in his hands became plastic-like wax, so all his plans were successful. If you look at the sculpture, you understand that the author was right. Proserpine is depicted as a miniature compared to Pluto. But if you look closely, everything has certain proportions, and you can feel the proportionality in all the details.
Bernini portrayed the hands of Pluto as beautiful and strong, where he very carefully holds his beloved in them. The hero’s body is fashioned perfectly: every fold, muscle, everything is like in the picture.
The facial expression of Pluto shows the feel of power and a little surprise. However, the god smiles. At the same time, Proserpine is not inferior to him in power and beauty. The curls on the hair and the beard of the sculptures are masterfully executed. Also, all the folds on the body are very similar to natural ones. Proserpine’s genuine resistance is traced in all her movements. Tears froze on her face, and despair can be seen in her eyes.
Borghese Gallery in Rome,