Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Abduction of Proserpina: Uncovering the Mythical Masterpiece

The Rape of Proserpina, more accurately translated as the Abduction of Proserpina, is a large Baroque marble group sculpture by Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, executed between 1621 and 1622, when Bernini’s career was in its early stage.

The group, finished when Bernini was just 23 years old, depicts the abduction of Proserpina, who is seized and taken to the underworld by the god Pluto.

It features a Pluto holding a Proserpina aloft, and a Cerberus to symbolize the border into the underworld that Pluto carries Proserpina into.

Cardinal Scipione Borghese commissioned the sculpture and gave it to the newly-appointed Cardinal-nephew, Ludovico Ludovisi, possibly as a means of gaining favor. The choice to depict the myth of Proserpina may relate to the recent death of Pope Paul V, or to the recent empowerment of Ludovico.

Bernini drew heavy inspiration from Giambologna and Annibale Carracci for the sculpture, which is also the only work for which preparatory material survives. The Rape of Proserpina is made of rare Carrara marble, and was originally placed on a since-destroyed pedestal with a poem by Maffeo Barberini. It has been praised for its realism, as the marble mimics other materials like flesh. The detail is notable; for instance, a trickle of tears contribute expressiveness to Proserpina’s face.

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