Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Apollo and Daphne

Apollo & Daphne
By Gian Lorenzo Bernini

          This sculpture, titled Apollo & Daphne, was one of three works commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese.  It was executed between 1622 and 1625 and currently resides in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. 
          Bernini’s Apollo & Daphne is a life-sized sculpture standing 96 inches tall.  It was crafted by hand from beautiful near-white marble.  It was painstakingly chiseled, smoothed and polished over the course of three years.  The sculpture was designed to be viewed at a 360° angle, with detailing and different observations from all angles.
          The sculpture has natural and realistic styling, full of fluid lines and details.  Not only are the subjects life-sized, they have good proportion and balance and so they appear very life-like.  Bernini captures Apollo’s thin muscular build with detail of the shallow cleavage between the pectoral muscles of his chest and the slight indication of his thigh muscle.  Daphne physical attributes are very authentic.  The shape of her breasts and the hint of thickness in her hips and waist, are more representative of a normal woman’s features.  There are great details in the delicate leaves and branches extending from Daphne’s arms.  The bark that begins to envelop around her legs and torso also shows remarkable detailing and texture. 
Bernini brings motion to the sculpture.  Not only are Apollo and Daphne sculpted in motion, with arms outstretched and legs advancing, we can also envision that Apollo is chasing after Daphne from their swirling draperies whipping in the winds behind and around them.  Their very detailed, flowing hair also reinforces the impression of motion. 
The faces of Apollo and Daphne provide a lot of information regarding the scene.  Apollo seems very much in love.  His eager expression reflects kindness and enamor.  His mouth is open and in a slight smile, and his facial features are soft.  The outside corners of his eyes appear to angle up - a sign of pleasure or happiness.  Daphne’s expression, on the other hand, is in complete opposition.  Her eyes are wide open and she is glancing back at Apollo while reaching out in front of her.  Her mouth is open – not in a smile like Apollo’s – but in astonishment and distress. 
Apollo & Daphne was inspired by one of the stories from Book 1 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  The story tells of Apollo being struck by a golden arrow from Eros, the god of love, causing him to fall in love with Daphne.  Eros strikes Daphne with a lead arrow, causing the exact opposite affect.  Apollo is so consumed by his love for Daphne that she begins to flee and he gives chase.  She begs for her father to save her.  Right at the time he is about to catch her, her father changes her into a laurel tree. 
Alternate view
This sculpture depicts that split moment in time as Daphne is transforming into the tree.  We see her feet begin to turn into tree roots and the bark begins to wrap around her legs, then up her left hip and around her buttocks as they begin to form into the tree trunk.  From above, her fingers change into branches with leaves and berries on them.  This alternative view of the sculpture shows more details of her transformation. 
Why this subject was selected by the Cardinal Scipione Borghese, I’m not sure.  There seem to be some mystery as to why a sculpture depicting a story from pagan myth would be desired by a Cardinal.  To reconcile the situation the following was later engraved on the sculpture’s base:  Those who love to pursue fleeting forms of pleasure, in the end find only leaves & bitter berries in their hands. 
          The Italian sculptor, Gian Lorezno Bernini, was a baroque artist, as illustrated by his swirling, spiraling, energized subjects.  In his early career, he created such sculptures as Aeneas, Anchises and Ascanius, The Rape of Proserpina, Apollo and Daphne, and David.  Later he created the Baldacchino in St. Peter’s, Rome and the Ecstasy of St. Teresa in the Cornaro Chapel in Rome.  He was a master with marble and was considered a leading sculpture of his time.  Bernini also had talent in painting and architecture.
          I found this sculpture piece to be very intriguing.  I especially appreciated the way this one piece told such a complete story.  Its realism appeals to me and I found the detailed aspects drew me closer.  I found it to be similar to Greek sculpture, which I like, yet it was even more.  I think the tactics used to portray the energy of this piece are very fascinating.  Here is a link to the sculpture as reviewed by SmartHistory.  YouTube Apollo & Daphne by SmartHistory  I love these guys!

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