Apollo and Daphne


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Apollo and Daphne

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In 1622-24, Gian Lorenzo Bernini made one of the most famous sculptural groups from Villa Borghese in Rome: Apollo and Daphne, executed at the same time as his David, The Rape of Proserpina and Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius, for the valuable collection of Cardinal Camillo Borghese.
Bernini interpreted the mythological subject referred in the Metamorphoses from the Latin poet Ovid, with extraordinary sensibility and imagination. The old tale narrates the story of Apollo, god of music and poetry, who, struck with an arrow shot by Eros, falls in love with daughter of the god of river Peneus, the beautiful nymph Daphne, who does not love Apollo in return. Chased by the god, Daphne flees and when is about to be caught, invokes the help of Mother Earth, who unexpectedly intervenes, transforming her in a laurel tree (in Greek, “dàfne”). From this moment on, Apollo proclaims laurel as a sacred tree, with what poets will be crowned.
The artist chose a crucial moment for his representation: when Apollo reaches Daphne and she becomes a laurel tree. It is an illustration of great intensity in which Bernini achieves a summary of expressive values. The artist gives a kind of classical beauty to the bodies’ natural shapes, captured in the action, where not only the Hellenistic art is easily spotted, but also a soft and involving sensuality from the 17th Century.
The scene dynamism is developed in several levels. The moment intended as action is associated to the evolving of emotions and all is merged in to that extraordinary magic of the metamorphosis with which Bernini imagines the old tale.
The effect of velocity is represented with great effect: Apollo, adolescent, seems dragged from his run. The naked body puts in evidence the tensed muscles, while it rotates and balances forward to grab Daphne. The mantle seems to slip away and blows in the wind with such a lightness that seems unbelievable in a block of marble. The left leg is still raised and the right arm is drawn away from the body; the only point of support is the right leg.
Daphne, still committed to her run, suddenly brakes, arches backwards rotating her bust and opens the arms upwards. Her body depicts an arch, which balances Apollo’s push.
With the “physical” representation of the action that unfolds, comes along the refined psychological dynamism of emotions: Apollo’s expression both surprised and disappointed, the hand open in a outspoken gesture, the breathlessness mixed terror in Daphne’s face, with the head and eyes turned and the mouth opened in a scream.
But Bernini’s expressiveness has also an effective participation power, as we see in Apollo’s gesture and expression, a reflection of our own astonishment when we find ourselves in front of such a graceful and sensual female body, and notice the distress and bewilderment experienced by Daphne, who feels lost while becoming a tree.
The transformation happens in front of our eyes so naturally, that we see the roots that spring from Daphne’s feet and the leaves that ramify from her hands and hair.
The immediateness and spontaneity of these effects are due to the realism and the accuracy with which Bernini treated the details and the marble surface, something already admired by his contemporaries. He knew how to treat the material differences (softness, hardness, coarseness, smoothness) of surfaces, almost to exceed the marble’s own nature, which doesn’t seem stone anymore, but cortex, fabric, hair, veil, leaves, etc. The true metamorphosis seems to be exactly the one that happens under Bernini’s hands. The scene’s drama is emphasised by the powerful dynamism, by the alternated full and empty, by the light and shade effect, by the contrast of surfaces, like the one between the softness of the figure’s bodies and the cortex of the tree, the soft consistency of the hair and the rough freshness of the leaves and the branches that grow, rendered with pictorial chiaroscuro effect.
The composition is outlined in two arches described from the figures and developed in a spiral. However it is surprising how Bernini resolved the problem of the weight and of the static functioning of the marble mass with such articulated and fine shapes, stretched outwards. In a refined balance game, the arms, legs, fingers and hair of the figures stretch in the space, defying the law of gravity and taking marble to its extreme expression possibilities. The scene is spectacular: it is like watching two figures hanging in the air.
Yet, nothing is excessive in Bernini’s work, which put together keeps an extraordinary sense of harmony. It reminds also the models of Hellenistic inspiration, and sends back to the grace of pieces of work like Apollo of the Belvedere.
Despite the dynamism and full spatiality sensation, like other works executed for the Galleria Borghese, also in this case the work is done to be seen from a precise direction, concordant with a privileged viewing point. The group in fact, should be put in an exact position, in front of a wall of the gallery and exposed to light with an established incidence, in order to enhance the effects of movement, of spatiality and pictorialness.

A. Cocchi

Trad. A. Sturmer

 


 

Bibliography

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La Nuova Enciclopedia dell'Arte Garzanti.
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Tags:Bernini, Apollo, Daphne, Alessandra Cocchi, A. Sturmer, .

Stile:Barocco.

Per saperne di più sulla città di: Roma

 



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Gianlorenzo Bernini. Apollo and Daphne. Detail. 1622-24. Marble. h. 242 cm. Rome, Borghese Gallery


Gianlorenzo Bernini. Apollo and Daphne. 1622-24. Marble. h. 242 cm. Rome, Borghese Gallery


Gianlorenzo Bernini. Apollo and Daphne. 1622-24. Marble. h. 242 cm. Rome, Borghese Gallery


Gianlorenzo Bernini. Apollo and Daphne. 1622-24. Marble. h. 242 cm. Rome, Borghese Gallery


Gianlorenzo Bernini. Apollo and Dafne. Detail. 1622-24. Marble. h. 242 cm. Rome, Borghese Gallery



 

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