Rape of Proserpina

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Bernini, The Rape of Proserpina, 1621
“Texture of the skin, the flying ropes of hair, the tears of Persephone and above all the yielding flesh of the girl”, Howard Hibbard comments about Bernini’s 1621 masterpiece The Rape of Proserpina. The young girl pushes Pluto away, attempting to return to her home above the underworld. Her captor appears amused and dazed by the fact she wants to escape his hold.

The work embodies movement and motion unlike any scripture seen before. Bernini invents the idea of the interactive statue - a piece of artwork that interacts with its surroundings. The limbs of the subject puncture the surrounding air and invite the viewer to look closer. The twisting, turning bodies juxtaposed into a moment of extreme distress and playfulness at the same time. Although Pluto’s stature is overwhelming, Cerberus standing behind him and Proserpina on his hip balances the piece.

Rape of Proserpina detail
Most critics tend to agree on the artistic merit of the piece, but there are those critics who find faults with the statue. In the 18th and 19th century when Bernini’s reputation was faltering, many commented on the anatomical aspects saying, “Pluto's back is broken; his figure extravagant, without character, nobleness of expression, and its outline bad; the female one no better.” However, I have yet to encounter another statue as moving as Bernini’s.

There is a part of me that feels for Pluto, the hopeless romantic. He merely wants a companion other than his three-headed dog (no hate on Cerberus, though). The misunderstood giant grabbing out to hold onto the one he loves. Proserpina a scared young girl who only wants to return home where her own bed awaits her. I couldn’t agree more with Bernini’s son, Domenico, when he says,” an amazing contrast of tenderness and cruelty."

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