Apollo and Daphne (Bernini)

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Apollo and Daphne is a life-sized Baroque marble sculpture by Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, executed between 1622 and 1625. Housed in the Galleria Borghese in Rome, the work depicts the climax of the story of Daphne and Phoebus in Ovid's Metamorphoses.


The sculpture was the last of a number of artworks commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, early on in Bernini's career. Apollo and Daphne was commissioned after Borghese had given an earlier work of his patronage, Bernini's Pluto and Persephone, to Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi.

Much of the early work was done in 1622-1623, but a pause, quite possibly to work on the sculpture of David, interrupted its completion, and Bernini did not finish the work until 1625. Indeed, the sculpture itself was not moved to the Cardinal's Villa Borghese until September 1625. Bernini did not execute the sculpture by himself; he had significant help from a member of his workshop, Giuliano Finelli, who undertook the sculpture of the details that show Daphne's conversion from human to tree, such as the bark and branches, as well as her windswept hair. Indeed, there has been some discussion amongst historians to which the statue should be attributed to Bernini alone.

While the sculpture may be appreciated from multiple angles, Bernini planned for it to be viewed side on, allowing the observer to see the reactions of Apollo and Daphne simultaneously, thus understanding the narrative of the story in a single instant, without the need to move position.


When Phoebus (Apollo), fated by Cupid's love-exciting arrow, sees the maiden daughter of Peneus a river god, he is filled with wonder at her beauty and consumed by desire. But Daphne has been fated by Cupid's love-repelling arrow and denies the love of men. As the Nymph flees he relentlessly chases her—boasting, pleading, and promising everything. When her strength is finally spent she prays to her father Peneus:


Phoebus loved the graceful tree, clung to it and kissed the wood:


Critical Reception

Despite Bernini's reputation falling after his death, Apollo and Daphne continued to be praised. One French travelling in 1839 commented that the group is "astonishing both for mechanism of art and elaborateness, is full of charm in the ensemble and the details." The English sculptor John Flaxman reckoned it to be one of the very few Bernini sculptures worth praising. Others were less positive. One English travel book writer in 1830 noted Bernini's technical skill but added that the sculpture "bears all the want of judgment, taste, and knowledge of that age", going to criticise the appearance of Apollo for being too like a shepherd and not enough like a god.

More recent historians have been much more positive. Robert Torsten Petersson calls it "an extraordinary masterpiece ... suffused with an energy that works out of the tips of the laurel leaves and Apollo's hand and drapery." <ref>= Bernini and the Excesses of Art =  By Robert Torsten Peterssonhttp://books.google.nl/books?id=YOfQOpx0UvsC&pg=PA80&dq=apollo+and+daphne+bernini&hl=en&sa=X&ei=lYXRUpiwDIa00QXQgYH4Dg&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=apollo%20and%20daphne%20bernini&f=false</ref>

In popular culture

  • A photograph of the work is used on the cover of Lady Gaga's album ARTPOP







Further reading

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  • Barolsky, Paul. ‘Ovid, Bernini, and the Art of Petrification’. Arion 13, no. 2 (1 October 2005): 149–162. doi:10.2307/29737267.
  • Bolland, Andrea. ‘Desiderio and Diletto: Vision, Touch, and the Poetics of Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne’. The Art Bulletin 82, no. 2 (1 June 2000): 309–330. doi:10.2307/3051379.
  • Kenseth, Joy. ‘Bernini’s Borghese Sculptures: Another View’. The Art Bulletin 63, no. 2 (1 June 1981): 191–210. doi:10.2307/3050112.
  • Welborn, Braden. ‘Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne From Behind’. Prairie Schooner 79, no. 4 (1 December 2005): 58. doi:10.2307/40638347.
  • Wilkins, Ann Thomas. ‘Bernini and Ovid: Expanding the Concept of Metamorphosis’. International Journal of the Classical Tradition 6, no. 3 (1 December 2000): 383–408. doi:10.2307/30222585.
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External links

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