An Impressive White Statuary Marble Figural Group of Apollo and Daphne
An Impressive White Statuary Marble Figural Group of Apollo and Daphne After The Celebrated Model by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) at the Galleria...
DimensionsHeight: 206 cm (82 in)
Width: 70 cm (28 in)
Depth: 50 cm (20 in)
An Impressive White Statuary Marble Figural Group of Apollo and Daphne After The Celebrated Model by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) at the Galleria Borghese in Rome, On Dove Grey Marble Pedestal.
Sculpted in the round from a single block of white statuary marble. The male figure of Apollo captured as if in motion, running forward with his weight balanced on his right leg, his robe billowing behind. He leans forward encircling with his left arm the goddess Daphne and at that very moment she transforms into a laurel tree.
The statue stands atop an original solid dove grey marble pedestal with rotating mechanism.
Bernini’s depiction of the transformation myth of Apollo and Daphne is a sculptural masterpiece of pure virtuosity. Bernini pushes to the limit the plastic possibility of sculpted marble to freezeframe the moment when the goddess Daphne transforms into a laurel tree to escape Apollo. Just as Apollo thinks he has caught her, Daphne’s fleeing form begins to be enveloped by the encircling bark; her fingers leaf out; her toes take root. Apollo encircles her waist with a confident arm; but his facial expression indicates the beginning of an awareness that something has gone wrong. Daphne seems ignorant of her transformation as she looks back over her shoulder, lips parted in fright. Her mouth seems to frame a silent scream as her face goes blank under the force of transformation. Daphne’s hair swings around as a result of her sudden arrest and blows free with a lightness Bernini himself felt he never equalled.
The story of Apollo and Daphne originates in Greek mythology, but the most well-known version is the lyrical telling by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses (I.438-567), a collection of Greek fables first written in 8 CE.
The myth purportedly explains the origin of the laurel tree and its connection to Apollo. He says he will wear her leaves in his hair, will use her wood to make a bow and lyre and that a crown made of her branches will adorn the heads of royalty and campions of game and battle. Apollo uses his powers of eternal youth and immortality to render the laurel tree an evergreen.
The subject of Apollo and Daphne is common in paintings but rare in sculpture for the obvious reason that neither hot pursuit nor transformation from flesh to vegetation seemed remotely suited to three-dimensional treatment. However, Bernini triumphs in his handling of such a challenging subject, creating an hallucinatory effect whereby the figures appear to almost skim over the ground.
Bernini’s statue of Apollo and Daphne was commissioned by Cardinal Borghese (1577-1633) and begun in 1622 but not completed until 1625 owning to an interluded during which Bernini sculpted his statue of ‘David’. Cardinal Borghese was secretary to his uncle Pope Paul V and in the classic pattern of papal nepotism wielded enormous power as the effective head of the Vatican government. Cardinal Borghese as an art collector was patron of the painter Caravaggio and the artist Bernini.
As was the practice, Bernini did not execute the sculpture entirely by his own hand, but with help from his workshop. The finer details that show Daphne’s conversion from human to tree, such as the twigs and leaves springing from her hands, were undertaken by Bernini’s pupil Giuliano Finelli (1601–1653). Apollo and Daphne is still in situ in the Galleria Borghese in the room for which is was made, although today it is positioned at the centre of the room instead of closer to the wall and facing a doorway as originally intended.
Bernini’s statue of Apollo and Daphne was immediately acclaimed as a masterpiece for revealing his outstanding talent and innovative spirit, especially the ability to portray both actions and emotions. Appreciation for Apollo and Daphne continued, with a French traveller in 1839 complimenting it as “astonishing both for mechanism of art and elaborateness, and full of charm in the ensemble and the details” (A. Valery, Historical, Literary, and Artistic Travels in Italy: A Complete and Methodical Guide for Travellers and Artists. Baudry. 1839 p. 596). More recently, the historian Robert Torsten Petersson called it “an extraordinary masterpiece … suffused with an energy that works out of the tips of the laurel leaves and Apollo’s hand and drapery” (R.-T. Petersson, Bernini and the Excesses of Art, Fordham Univ Press, 2002, p.80).
The fame of Apollo and Daphne made it a must see for visiting Grand Tourists during the 18th and 19th centuries and the wealthiest could commission a replica. Fulfilling this demand in the late 19th century were the workshops of Roman sculptor such as Raffaello Romanelli, Ernesto Gazzeri and Cesare Lapini. These later replicas are invariably reduced in scale from Bernini’s statue of Apollo and Daphne which stands 243 cm. high.
Italy, Circa 1860.
The statue: 113 cm | 44 inches high
The pedestal: 93 cm | 37 inches high
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) was the last great polymath: he was an architect, town-planner, sculptor, painter, draughtsman, engraver and playwright. However, the field in which he truly excelled was sculpture which he produced in quantity and with an originality which opened a new phase in the history of art.
His creative powers, multifaceted genius, exceptional abilities as an organiser of events and exuberant personality made him the chief visual propagandist of the Counter-Reformation and meant that he monopolised most of Rome’s artistic projects during the 17th century. Bernini has rightly come to be termed the ‘director of the baroque’.
Bernini rose to prominence under the patronage of the extravagantly wealthy and most powerful Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1577-1633) for which he executed his most celebrated sculptures: ‘Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius’ (1619), ‘Rape of Proserpina’ (1621–22), ‘Apollo and Daphne’ (1622–25) and ‘David’ (1623–24).