(b. 1628, Troyes, d. 1715, Paris)
The Rape of Persephone1677-99
Marble, height 270 cm
Garden of the Château, Versailles
Persephone (Proserpina for the Romans), the daughter of the corn-goddess Ceres, was picking flowers in a meadow with her companions when she was observed by Hades (also known as Pluto), the king of the underworld. Suddenly inflamed with love - according to Ovid he had just been struck by one of Cupid's arrows - Hades swept her away on his chariot. He caused a great chasm to open before them in the earth and Persephone was carried down to his kingdom below.
The Persephone is a free-standing group, composed of three entwined figures carved out of a single block. Girardon is therefore here directly challenging comparison with Bernini's treatment of the same theme and with Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines. Once again the statue does not now stand in the position for which it was originally designed. Until recently it was seen standing in the middle of the circular Colonnade, facing the entrance but inviting the spectator to walk round it and view it on all sides. It was planned, however, to form one of a quartet of groups at the four corners of the Parterre d'Eau. We do not know exactly how it was to be placed, but it would certainly have been set on a definite axis, so that it presented one principal aspect. Girardon has taken this fact into account and has designed the group with a marked emphasis on frontality. This feature is brought out most clearly by a comparison with the two Italian groups. Bologna's version presents satisfactory composition from whatever angle it is seen, but does not finally arrest the spectator at any one point. Bernini's is evidently meant to be studied primarily from one view, with the body of Pluto seen frontally, but there is such a wealth of cross-movement in depth that it can be examined from many sides. Girardon has concentrated everything on one view, to the extent that he has almost designed the statue as a high relief.