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Rape of Proserpina

Museum Label:
Rape of Proserpina
20th-century stone variant of marble original by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, 1598-1680), 1621-1622
Location: Galleria Borghese, Rome

Please note:
This is not an exact copy of the Bernini scupture.

Proserpina is sometimes spelled Prosperine or Prosperina.

Subject info:
Rape of Proserpina or Pluto and Proserpina - limestone (original marble by Gianlorenzo Bernini 1621) now in Borghese Gallery, Rome. This depicts Proserpina being carried down to Hades by Pluto. The story can be connected with the sculptures of Ceres Chariot and Hermes Binding Sandal.

Full Story:
The large stone group of Pluto and Proserpina shows Pluto, powerful god of the underworld, abducting Proserpina, daughter of Gea, earth. By interceding with Jupiter, her mother obtains permission for her daughter to return to earth for half the year and then spend the other half in Hades. Thus every spring the earth welcomes her with a carpet of flowers.

The group was executed between 1621 and 1622. Cardinal Scipione gave it to Cardinal Ludovisi in 1622, and it remained in his villa until 1908, when it was purchased by the Italian state and returned to the Borghese Collection.

In this group Bernini develops the twisting pose reminiscent of Mannerism, combined with an impression of vital energy (in pushing against Pluto's face Proserpina's hand creases his skin and his fingers sink into the flesh of his victim). Seen from the left, the group shows Pluto taking a fast and powerful stride and grasping Proserpina, from the front he appears triumphantly bearing his trophy in his arms; from the right one sees Proserpina's tears as she prays to heaven, the wind blowing her hair, as the guardian of Hades, the three-headed dog, barks. Various moments of the story are thus summed up in a single sculpture.

This group has often been said to strongly resemble ancient sculpture such as the Niobe (then in the Villa Medici), as regards Proserpina's face, while Pluto's stance is reminiscent of the Pedagogue (now in the Uffizi) and also the Hercules Killing Hydra, which was found in 1620 and restored by Algardi (now in the Capitoline Museums). Bernini, like Rubens, focussed on the tactile quality of his surfaces.

Wikipedia story:
Proserpina is an ancient goddess whose story is the basis of a myth of Springtime. She is the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Persephone. Proserpina was subsumed by the cult of Libera, an ancient fertility goddess, wife of Liber. Her name comes from proserpere meaning "to emerge." She is a life–death–rebirth deity.

She was the daughter of Ceres and Jupiter, and was described as a very enchanting young girl.

Venus, in order to bring love to Pluto, sent her son Amor also known as Cupid to hit Pluto with one of his arrows. Proserpina was in Sicily, at the fountain of Arethusa near Enna, where she was playing with some nymphs and collecting flowers, when Pluto came out from the volcano Etna with four black horses. He abducted her in order to marry her and live with her in Hades, the Greco-Roman Underworld, of which he was the ruler. Notably, Pluto was also her uncle, being Jupiter's (and Ceres's) brother. She is therefore Queen of the Underworld.

Her mother Ceres, the goddess of cereals or of the Earth, vainly went looking for her in any corner of the Earth, but wasn't able to find anything but a small belt that was floating upon a little lake (made with the tears of the nymphs). In her desperation Ceres angrily stopped the growth of fruits and vegetables, bestowing a malediction on Sicily. Ceres refused to go back to Mount Olympus and started walking on the Earth, making a desert at every step.

Worried, Jupiter sent Mercury to order Pluto (Jupiter's brother) to free Proserpina. Pluto obeyed, but before letting her go, he made her eat six pomegranate seeds (a symbol of fidelity in marriage) so she would have to live six months of each year with him, and stay the rest with her mother. So this is the reason for Springtime: when Proserpina comes back to her mother, Ceres decorates the Earth with welcoming flowers, but when in autumn she has to go back to Hades, nature loses any colour.

In another version of the story, some people believe that upon her abduction, Proserpina ate only four pomegranate seeds, and she did so of her own accord. When Jupiter ordered her return, Pluto struck a deal with Jupiter, saying that since she had stolen his pomegranate seeds, she must stay with him four months of the year in return. For this reason, in spring when Ceres received her daughter back, the crops blossomed, and in summer they flourished. In the autumn Ceres changed the leaves to shades of brown and orange (her favorite colors) as a gift to Proserpina before she had to return to the underworld. During the time that Proserpina resided with Pluto, the world went through winter, a time when the earth was barren.

The myth of Proserpina, mainly described by the Roman Claudianus (4th century AD) is closely connected with that of Orpheus and Eurydice — it is Proserpina, as Queen of Hades, who allows Orpheus enter and bring back to life his wife Eurydice who is dead by snake poison. Proserpina played her cetra to quiet Cerberus, but Orpheus did not respect her order never to look back, and Eurydice was lost.

Proserpina's figure inspired many artistic compositions, eminently in sculpture (Bernini , in painting (D.G.Rossetti , Pomarancio , J.Heintz , P.P.Rubens , A.Durer, Dell'Abbate , M.Parrish ) and in literature (Goethe  and Swinburne's Hymn to Proserpine)

For reasons that may be obvious, a variety of pomegranate is called Proserpina.

Proserpina is sometimes spelled Prosperine or Prosperina.

More information on other sculpture.