“Apollo and Daphne” by Bernini
“Apollo and Daphne” by Bernini depicts a critical point in the story from ancient Greek mythology, retold by Hellenistic and Roman authors in the form of an amorous vignette. The story starts with Apollo, the Greek god and patron of archery mocking the god of love, Eros (Cupid), for his use of bow and arrow. The insulted Eros then prepared two arrows, one of gold and one of lead. He shot Apollo with the gold shaft, instilling in the god a passionate love for the river nymph Daphne. He shot Daphne with the lead arrow, instilling in her a hatred for Apollo.
Daphne had spurned her many potential lovers, preferring woodland sports instead and to exploring the forest and has dedicated herself to perpetual virginity. Apollo having been smitten with Cupid’s love arrow persistently chases Daphne, begging her to stay, but the nymph continued to reject him and to run away from his advances. They were evenly matched in the race until Eros intervened, helping Apollo catch up to Daphne. Seeing that Apollo was bound to reach her, she called upon her father for help and to change her form to be free of Apollo.
Her father, the river god, answered her plea and “a heavy numbness seized her limbs; a thin bark surrounded her soft breasts, her hair changed into the foliage, her forearms changed into branches; her foot because of sluggish roots.” She was turned into a laurel tree. Apollo vowed to honour her forever: “Always my hair will have you, my lyres will have you; my quivers will have you, laurel tree.”
Heartbroken, Apollo also used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to render Daphne evergreen. For this reason, the leaves of the Bay laurel tree do not decay.
The life-sized Baroque marble sculpture by Bernini depicts the climax of the story of Apollo and Daphne (Phoebus and Daphne) in Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which Apollo finally catches up to Daphne, just as she is being transformed into a laurel tree. Apollo clutches Daphne’s hip, pursuing her as she flees to escape him. Apollo wears a laurel crown, and Daphne is portrayed halfway through her metamorphosis into the laurel tree with her arms already transforming into its branches as she flees and calls to her father to save her from Apollo. Bernini shows her fingers turning to branches and leaves and her feet becoming rooted to the ground.
Apollo and Daphne in Art
Many artists have depicted Apollo and Daphne in many art forms. Some have argued that even The Kiss by Gustav Klimt is a painting symbolic of the kissing of Daphne by Apollo at the moment she is transformed into nature.
There are numerous themes in this story from ancient Greek mythology. The myth has been examined as a battle between chastity and sexual desire or lust. Apollo, in the story, experiences three primary emotions, that of pride, passion, and loss. Daphne, on the other hand, is forced to sacrifice her body and become a tree as her only form of escape from Apollo’s desires. At the conclusion of the story, Apollo creates a wreath out of her laurel branches, thus turning her symbol of innocence into a cultural symbol for poets and musicians.
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
The sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) was an Italian sculptor and architect. As the leading sculptor of his age, he is credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture. Also, he was a painter and a man of the theatre. As an architect and city planner, he designed both secular buildings and churches and chapels, as well as extensive works combining both architecture and sculpture, especially elaborate public fountains.
- A battle between freedom and desire?
Apollo and Daphne
- Title: Apollo and Daphne
- Artist: Bernini
- Year: 1622–1625
- Medium: Marble
- Dimensions: 243 cm (96 in)
- Museum: Galleria Borghese
- Name: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
- Born: 1598 – Naples, Kingdom of Naples, in present-day Italy
- Died: 1680 (aged 81) – Rome, Papal States, in present-day Italy
- Nationality: Italian
- Movement: Baroque style
- Notable works:
Explore Italian Museums
- The Vatican Museums
- Capitoline Museums
- St. Peter’s Basilica
- National Roman Museum, Museo Nazionale Romano
- Galleria Borghese
- Santa Maria delle Grazie
- Sforza Castle Museums
- Brera Art Gallery, Pinacoteca di Brera
- Museo Poldi Pezzoli
“There are three classes of people:
Those who see.
Those who see when they are shown.
Those who do not see.”
– Leonardo da Vinci
Photo Credit: Gian Lorenzo Bernini [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] 2)Antoine Taveneaux [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]