BERNINI, Gian Lorenzo
(b. 1598, Napoli, d. 1680, Roma)

Apollo and Daphne

Carrara marble, height 243 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

This is the last of Bernini's work commissioned by the Borghese family and one of his most popular sculpture. The influence of antique sculptures (Apollo of Belvedere) and of contemporary paintings (Guido Reni) is clearly seen.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini created an unprecedented masterpiece for Cardinal Scipione Borghese depicting the chaste nymph Daphne being turned into a laurel tree, pursued in vain by Apollo god of light. This life-size marble sculpture, begun by Bernini at the age of twenty-four and executed between 1622 and 1625, has always been housed in the same room in the villa, but originally stood on a lower and narrower base set against the wall near the stairs. Consequently anyone entering the room first saw Apollo from behind, then the fleeing nymph appeared in the process of metamorphosis. Bark covers most of her body, but according to Ovid's lines, Apollo's hand can still feel her heart beating beneath it. Thus the scene ends by Daphne being transformed into a laurel tree to escape her divine aggressor.

The presence of this pagan myth in the Cardinal's villa was justified by a moral couplet composed in Latin by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini (later Pope Urban VIII) and engraved on the cartouche on the base, which says: Those who love to pursue fleeting forms of pleasure, in the end find only leaves and bitter berries in their hands.