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Rape of Proserpina

Bernini Gian Lorenzo
(Naples 1598 - Rome 1680)


The work portrays the abduction of Proserpina by Pluto, the god of the underworld.
Present in both Claudian (De raptu Proserpine) and Ovid (Metamorphoses, V, 385-424), the myth tells of the abduction of the maiden on the shores of Lake Pergusa, in the vicinity of Enna. Crazed by sorrow, her mother, the harvest goddess Ceres, caused a drought that forced Jupiter to intercede with Pluto to allow Prosperpina to return to her for six months a year. Bernini represents the culminating moment of the action. The proud and insensitive god is dragging Proserpina into Hades, his muscles so taut in the effort to hold the writhing body that Pluto’s hands sink into her flesh.

In executing this subject, Bernini looked to the virtuosity of the sculptors of the Mannerist period. But the truth of the action – sought through the in-depth study of models from antiquity – the plastic strength,  and the intensity of the maiden’s expression are not to be found in works of the time. Such creative freedom was made possible by his absolute mastery of technique, which he pushed to the point of grazing the physical limits of marble.

After the death of Paul V (1621), Scipione gave the group to his successor, Ludovico Ludovisi, the cardinal nephew of Gregory XV (1621-23), a sophisticated collector and owner of an unfortunately no longer existent villa – extending from Porta Pinciana almost to Termini Station – where it remained until it was transferred to the Italian government.


Object Details

Medium | white marble, h. cm 255


Inventory | CCLXVIII

Location | Room 4 – Room of the Emperors


Period | '600


Classification | sculpture




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