Myths & Tales

Art of the Day: The Rape of Persephone/Proserpina


Dear Reader,

As soon as I saw this statue I was completely mesmerised by it. It is called the Rape of Proserpina or Abduction of Proserpina (Ratto di Proserpina) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the year 1622. As he was Italian he used the Roman names of the Greek gods. I will use Persephone and Kore, the Greek original ones.

I know the story by heart as it’s one of my favourites, and as intense as it is, only a very intense piece of art could represent it the best way. Bernini did it. And majestically.

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Hades and Persephone in one of the most beautiful and dramatic representations of this myth. Photo source: Google.

Brief story of Persephone (Kore) and Hades:

Hades was the god of the Underworld, therefore god of all the dead, good and bad, and god of all the precious gems and stones that are found in the the underground. He was lonely, very grumpy and as you can imagine with very bad luck with women. Every attempt of seduction failed miserably. He never left the Underworld unless he had business to do or when he is overcome by sudden lust. Tired of his failed attempts he asks his brother Zeus to give him Kore as his wife. Kore (in greek means ‘young girl’) was a young joyous girl, daughter of Demeter, jealous goddess of harvest and agriculture. Zeus knew that by giving his consent he would have to confront the severe Demeter so he unwillingly gave the permission to his older brother to take Persephone to the underworld.

The coming of Kore to the Underworld symbolises the beginning of autumn and then winter, as the mother cried her daughter disappearance by shutting down any agriculture growth and prosperity on Earth. This fact prompted to her name changed into Persephone, which means ‘her who brings destruction‘ in terms of life and vegetation. Negotiations were made in such way that it was decreed that Persephone would spend six months in the underworld with her new husband (autumn and winter) and the rest of the year with her mother Demeter (spring and summer).

This piece of art is a delicate balance of violence and seduction, bodies binding together with excellent attention paid to details that give it an effect of firmness and strength.

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Hades grip on Persephone’s thigh. Photo source: Google.
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Photo source: Google.

Persephone’s desperation is remarkable in this piece of work as her eyes and tears portray the fear and anger upon being taken away from her mother, Demeter, and her home town to be dragged in the Underworld.

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Persephone’s desperation is shown by her tears and features. Photo source: Google.
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Photo source: Google.

17 comments

    1. Hello Scott 🙂 thank you for your appreciation, indeed! Such beautiful sculptures, so much detail in it. I thought the photo with the hand close up on the thigh is superb and so well done. I just can’t imagine how these people could achieve such perfection sculpted in such hard material, you know? 🙂 it’s just wonderful.

      1. marble is not that hard – as stones go.
        Harder than Alabaster but much softer than Granite, both serving as sculpture media.

    1. Hi Anand 🙂
      noo I wish I lived in Greece but I don’t 😦 I’ve traveled there a lot though.
      Roman myths are a reprise of the Greek ones, they changed the names and several attributions of the gods, but in general terms they remain very similar.
      Romans make Apollo the Sun god and call him Febo (from Greek Phoebe which means ‘light’), instead of being the god of Music and Arts.

      1. Wow! I am learning so much from you everyday 🙂 🙂
        I guess Friends(US TV show) character Phoebe Buffay had the name similar to Apollo’s name. Great!
        Thank you so much. I would keep nagging you every now and then 😛
        Anand

    1. Helen hello!
      I know what you mean 🙂 this piece of art is mesmerising. Can’t stop looking at it, so much detail and so real. And to think he sculpted this from ONE chunk of marble, incredible! So much talent 🙂
      Have you seen the Apollo & Daphne statue Helen?? That one also is so beautiful.

      1. I just looked it up… WOW! The leaves, their hair, that piece of fabric that seems to have been caught by the wind… It’s so realistic it’s uncanny! I’d love to see these sculptures in real life.

        1. True 🙂 so true. I liked especially the detail of her hair and fingers transforming into leaves and little branches. It’s so rich in details… I could stare it all day.

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