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International Journal of the Classical Tradition

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 383–408 | Cite as

Bernini and ovid: Expanding the concept of metamorphosis

  • Ann Thomas Wilkins
Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Classical Tradition Marble Group Visual Source Ancient Myth Classical Mythology 
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References

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    In addition to poetic and visual versions of the Apollo and Daphne myth, a dramatic cantata contemporary with Bernini was composed by Claudio Monteverdi. The Lamento di Apollo, c. 1620, reinforces the prevalence of and familiarity with mythological themes in Rome, at least among intellectuals. For general information, see The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, 1300–1900's, vol. 1, 328.Google Scholar
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    The Pluto and Persephone, Apollo and Daphne, and David were all sculpted during the brief papacy of Gregory XV. When the Pluto and Persephone was completed, Borghese did not install it in his villa as intended but instead presented it to the Cardinal, nephew of the recently-elected Pope Gregory XV. See Hibbard 45 ff. and Matthias Winner (“Bernini the Sculptor and the Classical Heritage in his Early Years: Praxiteles', Bernini's, and Lanfranco's Pluto and Proserpina,” Römisches Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte 22 [1985], 191–208) regarding confirmation of the presentation to Ludovisi by payment records. The statue remained in the Villa Ludovisi until 1908, when it was purchased by the state and installed in the Galleria Borghese.Google Scholar
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    Adapted from the Loeb Classical Library translation, 265, 267.Google Scholar
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    Adapted from the Loeb Classical Library translation by Sir James George Frazer (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1951), 221, 223.Google Scholar
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    The absence of flowers seems at odds with the distich written by Maffeo Barberini for the original base: “quisquis humi pronus flores legis, inspice saevi/me Ditis ad domum rapi” (“you, who leaning near the ground pick flowers, look on me being carried away to the home of savage Dis”). See Pietro da Barga in Bernini Scultore, 184–203, here 190.Google Scholar
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    For general information, see The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, 1300–1900's vol. 2 (Oxford, 1993), 858 ff. for reference to a Marino Idyll, “Proserpina” (1620), a Monteverdi opera, Il rapimento di Proserpina (1611), and visual representations such as reliefs on bronze doors of St. Peter's in Rome by Filarete (1433–45). See also Pigler, 225 ff.Google Scholar
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    See Winner 197 regarding “the renewing power of the bereft family tree of the Borghese” as seen also in Lanfranco's ceiling fresco, begun in 1624. Note that as is the case with the Apollo and Daphne, this group's current display differs from the one originally intended. Similar to Bernini's representation of the Apollo and Daphne myth, the abduction to the underworld would also have gradually appeared to the viewer. See Avery 48 ff. for discussion of the similarity of the Pluto and Persephone to the Aeneas group in the representation “of a figure supporting another in mid-air.”Google Scholar
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    Paul Barolsky (“Bernini and Ovid,” Source 16 [1996], 29–31) considers Bernini's representation of Persephone and Pluto as a metamorphosis not only of “marble into flesh” but also from the myth of Persephone into that of Pygmalion. Bernini's magical representation of fingers on flesh recalls Ovid's narration of Pygmalion's caressing the body of the statue (Metamorphoses 10. 258).Google Scholar
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    Baldinucci implies that Pietro Bernini was involved in this work, the first commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese. See Avery 43.Google Scholar
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    See Galinsky 217–251 for a thorough discussion of “Ovid's Aeneid” in the context of the theme of metamorphosis and of the poet's relationship to Vergil and Avery 43 regarding paragone.Google Scholar
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    Preimesberger (“Themes from Art Theory in the Early Works of Bernini,” 8 f.) refers to—but does not elaborate on—“scholarly histories” as other sources.Google Scholar
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    Hinc videt Aenean oneratum pondere caro / et tot Iuleae nobilitatis avos: (“On this side he sees Aeneas burdened with the weight dear to him, and many an ancestor of the noble Julian line”) (Fasti V. 563–4: adapted from the Loeb Classical Library translation, 301). See Paul Zanker, Forum Augustum: das Bildprogramm, Monumenta artis antiquae 2 Tübingen, 1968, 16 ff). Another ancient representation of this theme was an acroterion of the Temple of Augustus on the Palatine. This, too, no longer survives but is represented on coins. See the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. 1, 390.Google Scholar
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    Sebastian Schütze in Bernini Scultore, 170–79, suggests that perhaps the composition expresses two moments in time, one after the other: while Neptune is seen to call forth the water, already we see Triton signaling the flood's end. He maintains that in a single sculptural work we can understand divine anger as well as approaching calm.Google Scholar
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    Schütze discusses the intentional nature of this allusion to Genesis (175) and the symbolism of the waters both rising and ceasing as the trident is struck and the conch blown (175). Collier discusses contemporary papal issues and possible connections with the Nepturne and Triton theme as well as possible interpretations of the Barcaccia fountain (as “Ship of the Church”) and the Fountain of the Four Rivers (440).Google Scholar
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    See Avery 180 f. regarding this work, which dates from 1565–8. Although Neptune's stance is similar in both works, a narrative context is more clearly suggested in Bernini's work by facial expression and the addition of Triton. See Wittkower (Bernini) 234 f. regarding the influence of engravings. For general information regarding visual and literary representations of Triton (such as “Triton with Dolphins” by Giambologna cast in 1598), see The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, 1300–1900's, vol. 2, 1038 ff.: “Triton has little mythology ... (He is) commonly depicted blowing on a conch shell and frolicking in the waves. ...” See Avery 180 f. and Hildegard Utz, “Skulpturen und andere Arbeiten des Battista Lorenzi,” Metropolitan Museum Journal 7 [1973], 60–1) regarding a representation of Triton blowing a conch shell produced by Battista Lorenzi early in the 1570's and probably known to Bernini, Sergei Androsov and Nina Kosareva (“Catalogue”, in Bernini's Rome, Chicago, 1998, 62 f.) regarding a terracotta study for the Neptune and Triton, and Luba Freedman for a history of how Neptune's appearance evolved in the 16th century (“Cinquecento Mythographic Descriptions of Neptune,” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 2 [1995/96], 44–53).Google Scholar
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    See Avery 180 for a discussion of the frontal view as “the central nodule at the hinge of the shell.” Note that spectators do not see this view until they walk around the pond.Google Scholar
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    Note that in Bernini's later Tritone fountain, in Piazza Barberini (1642–43), four dolphins support the shell. And, as noted by Androsov and Kosareva (“Catalogue,” in Bernini's Rome, 79 f.), there exists a terracotta model of Tritons holphins, possibly intended for Piazza Navona. For discussion of dolphins as symbolizing “princely benefaction,” see Hibbard 112.Google Scholar
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    Certainly, considerations other than narrative or symbolic existed: the marble group needed support, for instance.Google Scholar
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    See Barkan, who in his discussion of Ovid's Narcissus tale, states that “Metamorphosis, then, is a force that underlies all the motions in the story, and the overriding motion is the transformation of real substance into empty fleeting images” (51).Google Scholar
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    See Wittkower 56 regarding Bernini's work on St. Peter's and the church of S. Bibiana during the summer of 1624 as well as on the saint's joyful acceptance of martyrdom.Google Scholar
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    For discussion of the St. Teresa sculpture, see Irving Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts, especially 107–124, in which he discusses the Cornaro chapel's “fusion of the arts” (14). Lavin considers Teresa's transverberation as “the point of contact between earth and heaven, between matter and spirit” (113). “The apparently distinct themes Bernini conflated with the transverberation—Teresa's death, her eucharistic levitation, and her mystical marriage—are thus profoundly related. Their union made of the Teresa altarpiece an actual embodiment of the ultimate meaning of the liturgy: love, the greatest of Christian virtues, conjoins the invocation of the saint, the sacrifice at the altar and the promise of salvation.”Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ann Thomas Wilkins
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ClassicsDuquesne UniversityPittsburghUSA

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