BAURSCHEIT, Jan Peter van, the Elder
(b. 1669, Würmersdorf, d. 1728, Antwerpen)

The Abduction of Persephone by Hades

Terracotta, 40,5 x 43,8 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

This terracotta square relief has served as a model for a vase. In fact the relief represents only one of the two scenes on the vase, a depiction of The Abduction of Persephone by Hades. The god of the underworld abducts Persephone, making her queen of his kingdom of the spirits, a loss which her mother Demeter, the goddess of crops, mourns so grievously that all plant growth on earth is lost.

Baurscheit depicts the dramatic moment when Hades grabs fast his prey - we clearly see his fingers clasping into her flesh - whilst Persephone puts up a struggle and pushes away her attacker. We are struck by the strength of the movement and by the sensuality radiating from the naked female body. Both figures are draped in a fluttering cloth that gives greater impact to the diagonally composed construction. An eagle with a staff lies in the foreground as the attribute of the crowned god. More strikingly than other terracottas, this model highlights how clay can "betray" the sculptor, who can kneed and mould the material in such a way that the bozzetti reveal, more clearly than the final sculptures, not only his fingerprints but also his spontaneous thoughts. The example discussed here can therefore, in terms of both composition and virtuosity, be compared with a Rubens sketch.

The marble garden vase modelled after this terracotta is conserved in the Huis Osterrieth in Antwerp. On the reverse is a second relief showing Diana and a kneeling nymph. Given the high quality of the vase this is undoubtedly a work of Baurscheit himself. Jan Peter van Baurscheit was a busy sculptor and architect. His varied commissions include, perhaps surprisingly, a large number of garden decorations, which are found particularly in the Netherlands. Many of these garden sculptures attributed to Baurscheit are, however, no more than average quality studio work.