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Apollo and Daphne

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1622-1625

Marble, height 243 cm

Rome, Galleria Borghese

Apollo and Daphne is a baroque, life-sized marble sculpture by Italian Gian Lorenzo Bernini, housed in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. It was inspired by one of the stories included in Ovid's Metamorphoses.

In the story, Eros, god of love, wounds Apollo, god of the sun, with a golden arrow. He also wounds Daphne, a maiden and daughter of the river god Peneus, with a lead arrow. Apollo immediately falls in the love with the nymph but she does not want his love. In fact, Daphne refused all of her lovers because she hated marriage and wished to be alone. A follower of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, she delighted in hunting. Many times her father Peneus asked for a son-in-law and grandchildren. Daphne, however, requested that she may remain unmarried and her father consented.

Apollo, struck with the golden arrow, loves and wants Daphne but she repels his love, being struck by the lead arrow herself. Apollo pursues her and frightened by him, she begins to flee. As she runs, he is more captivated by her beauty. Apollo grows impatient and soon, sped by Eros, gains on her. With slower speed and failing strength, Daphne cries out to her father and asks for help. Peneus responds just as Apollo captures her. Daphne's skin turns to bark, her hair leaves, her arms branches, her feet roots, her face a treetop and the end result is a beautiful laurel tree. After the transformation Apollo still embraces the tree. He cuts off some of her branches and leaves to make a wreath and proclaims the laurel as a sacred tree.

Bernini's sculpture captures Daphne's transformation with intense emotion and drama by portraying the different stages of her changes. This calls for interaction with the sculpture by walking around it, as there is not just one optimal viewpoint. For instance, seen from behind Apollo, Daphne's human figure is obscured, leaving only the tree elements in view, so walking around the sculpture gives an impression of the metamorphosis taking place. The interlocking components and chiaroscuro create more narrative, reflecting foundations of Hellenistic Greek art.

Also during the Hellenistic period was the androgynous depiction of Apollo. He was slender, young, and had a feminine hair style, all of which are portrayed in this sculpture. Part of Apollo's iconography is the laurel tree and the wreath, originating from Ovid's story and illustrated in Bernini's work.

Although Apollo preached "All things in moderation" and was known to control his emotions, this sculpture clearly reveals him desperately pursuing love in vain. The failure of getting Daphne hints at Apollo's many failures with love in general, including being unable to win a maiden and his lovers' fidelity.

Stamp of Apollo and Daphne , Bernini

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