International Journal of the Classical Tradition

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 383-408

First online:

Bernini and ovid: Expanding the concept of metamorphosis

  • Ann Thomas WilkinsAffiliated withDepartment of Classics, Duquesne University

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Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) was influenced by a number of contemporary and ancient sources—including Ovid's Metamorphoses—and inspired by the very concept of changing forms. Two examples of the sculptor's early mythological works considered are the Apollo and Daphne, the most comprehensive demonstration of Ovid's influence in theme and concept, and the Neptune and Triton, in which we can observe perhaps the most subtle metamorphosis created by Bernini. From the front view the fleeting suggestion of an entire dolphin can be seen, with Neptune's foot forming the tail and the swirling end of his cloak suggesting the head. The spontaneous and unexpected appearance of this dolphin is Ovidian in concept, and the defiance of logic witnessed when a leg and a flying cloth suddenly form a leaping dolphin is likened thematically to the Metamorphoses, which recounts example after example of improbable happenings and appearances.