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“The Rape of Proserpina” by Bernini

"The Rape of Proserpina" by Bernini
“The Rape of Proserpina” by Bernini

“The Rape of Proserpina” by Bernini depicts the Abduction of Proserpina, who is seized and taken to the underworld by the god Pluto. Pluto was the ruler of the underworld in classical mythology. The Greek mythological name for this god was Hades, which became more common as the name of the underworld itself. In the myth, Pluto abducts Persephone to be his wife and the queen of his realm.

The story of the Abduction of Proserpina is told in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. In the ancient story, Zeus, King of the Gods, permitted Hades, who was in love with the beautiful Persephone, to abduct her as her mother Demeter was unlikely to allow her daughter to go down to Hades. Persephone was gathering flowers in a field when Hades came to abduct her, bursting through a cleft in the earth.

Demeter, when she found her daughter had disappeared, searched for her all over the earth.  Demeter, the goddess of the earth’s fertility, neglected the land and in the depth of her despair, causing nothing to grow. Demeter searched for her ceaselessly, preoccupied with her loss and her grief. The seasons halted; living things ceased their growth, then began to die.

Zeus was eventually persuaded by the cries of the hungry people and by the other deities who also heard their anguish, to force Hades to return Persephone. Hades could not avoid Zeus’s request, but first, he tricked Proserpina by giving her pomegranate seeds to eat. Persephone was released from the underworld. However, because she had tasted food in the underworld, she was obliged to spend a third of each year with Pluto. Thus when Proserpina is with her mother Demeter, the seasons support the earth’s fertility, and when she returns to the underworld, the land endures winter as Demeter mourns.

Pluto

Pluto was the ruler of the underworld in Roman mythology. The Greek name for the god was Hades. Pluto represents a more positive concept of the god who presides over the afterlife. Pluto was revered as both a stern ruler and a loving husband to Persephone. The couple received souls in the afterlife and are invoked together in ancient religious inscriptions. Hades, by contrast, had few temples and religious practices associated with him, and he is portrayed as the dark and violent abductor of Persephone.

Hades, in ancient Greek myth, is the god of the dead and the king of the underworld. Hades and his brothers, Zeus and Poseidon, defeated their father’s generation of gods, the Titans, and claimed the cosmos. Hades received the underworld, Zeus the sky, and Poseidon the sea.

Demeter

In ancient mythology, Demeter is the goddess of grains, agriculture, and the fertility of the earth. She presided over the cycle of life and death. She and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of a religious tradition that predated the Olympian pantheon. Demeter is considered to be the same figure as the Latin goddess Ceres.

Demeter’s most well-known relationship is with her daughter, Persephone. Before her abduction by Hades, Persephone was known as Kore, which is Greek for “maiden.”

Persephone

In Greek mythology, Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter. She becomes the queen of the underworld through her abduction by and subsequent marriage to Hades, the god of the underworld. The myth of her abduction represents her personification of vegetation, which flourishes in spring and withdraws in winter.

Persephone as a vegetation goddess and her mother Demeter were the central figures of a cult that was based on ancient agrarian cults of agricultural communities. In Classical Greek art, Persephone is portrayed robed, often carrying a sheaf of grain, but she was mostly represented in the process of being abducted by Hades.

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 theater. 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.

As with many of Bernini’s early works, “The Rape of Proserpina” was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. In 1908 the Italian State purchased the sculpture and returned to the Villa Borghese.

The Rape of Proserpina

  • Title:                 The Rape of Proserpina
  • Artist:               Bernini
  • Year:                 1621–22
  • Medium:           Carrara marble
  • Dimensions:     225 cm (89 in)
  • Museum:         Galleria Borghese

Bernini

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“What we have is given by God, and to teach it to others is to return it to him.”
– Gian Lorenzo Bernini

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Photo Credit: Architas [CC BY-SA ]

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