I was in Rome last week! Mostly I went around looking at Classics/Roman related things, but on Thursday I went to Galleria Borghese, which is this insanely beautiful gallery that houses mostly baroque art, set in an enormous park. They only let you stay inside for two hours and it’s one floor of sculpture and one floor of paintings so I did a high speed circuit and then settled down to sketch. Evidently I need to work on speed because I’d just finished sketching Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne when they started herding everyone out. Clearly I will have to return someday to sketch Bernini’s Rape of Proserpine and his David and…you get the idea. Also I ran out of space on my sketch pad and had to leave out the bottom section of the statue – there wasn’t time to start over.
Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne is so gorgeous in real life – actually the whole gallery was breathtaking, not just the amazing artworks but the very walls are painted with tromp l’oeil pillars and statues and vaulting and marble-effect, and then the ceilings are covered in murals.
The sculpture is inspired by the myth of Apollo and Daphne, the best known version of which comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Apollo offends Eros, who takes revenge by shooting an arrow at Apollo, making him desire Daphne, and then shooting a different kind of arrow at Daphne, so she rejects Apollo. Apollo chases Daphne across the countryside, and finally Daphne prays to her father, a river-god, to save her. Unfortunately his method of saving her is to turn her into a tree, and it is this moment that Bernini shows us. Apollo is almost but not quite touching her – his left hand rests on bark – and Daphne, horrified, is frozen in the act of becoming a laurel tree.