Bernini Gian Lorenzo
Carrara marble, high 243
Collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1617)
The subjet of the sculptural group is Ovid’s tale from his Metamorphoses (I, 450-567), where he tells of Apollo, on whom Eros takes revenge by shooting him with an arrow made of gold, the noblest metal, making him fall for the nymph Daphne, a disciple of Diana. The nymph, instead, is pierced by a dart made of lowly lead, rejects the god’s love, and begs her father, Peneus, a river god, to help her change the features that have aroused such passion . The work represents the crucial moment of Daphne‘s metamorphosis into a laurel tree.
Bernini created a theatrical staging in which the viewer’s eye follows the development of the transformation. After a run, Apollo has reached his beloved, whose feet have already become roots and hands and hair a single leafy branch; he attempts to grab her, but his fingers graze not her body, but the bark of the tree. From that moment laurel was to become dear to the god – who would tie it around his head – and be considered an attribute of artists and poets.
Originally the sculpture was placed on the side of the room next to the chapel and rested on a plinth that was lower than the current one, which increased the theatrical effect and thr viewer’s emotional involvement.