Monday, October 27, 2008

Capturing Apollo Capturing Daphne

Just saw a fabulous exhibit at the Getty Museum here in Los Angeles--portraits in marble by the 17th Century Italian sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. This bust of his lover, Costanza Bonarelli, shows Bernini's phenomenal ability to capture the casual, fleeting, lifelike moment, a kind of miraculous photograph in stone. Take a close look at Constanza's mouth. Bernini said the best moment to capture the mouth was just before or after the person spoke, when the lips were parted.

My favorite Bernini sculpture is the ‘Apollo and Daphne’ at the Villa Borghese in Rome. According to the Getty, when this masterpiece was first put on display, "there arose such a cry that all Rome concurred in seeing it as a miracle." The brilliant British author and historian Paul Johnson wrote: "No man had ever achieved such mastery over marble before, and no one, we can be sure, will ever again approach it."
The sculpture captures the climactic moment of the story of Apollo and Daphne, the famous myth of fleeting love I recounted in Night of the Furies:
Apollo was the greatest archer, the god of the silver bow. When he saw Eros struggling to string his little bow, Apollo made fun of him, and Eros took revenge. The cherub pulled out two arrows from his quiver: one that kindles love, and one that dispels it. The one that kindles was sharp and glistening with a gold point; the one that dispels was blunt and heavy with a lead tip. From the top of Mt. Parnassus, Eros shot Apollo through the heart with the gold point. The leaden one he shot at a nymph named Daphne, the beautiful daughter of a river god.Apollo fell immediately in love with Daphne, but Daphne spurned him and fled. He chased her through the woods. She ran like the wind. The further he pursued her, the more he fell in love, but Daphne grew more fearful the closer he came. As Apollo was about to overtake her, she cried out to her father for help, and the river god used his magic. A numbness seized Daphne’s limbs, bark closed over her body, her hair turned into leaves, her arms into branches, her feet into penetrating roots.
She had turned into a laurel tree. Only her beauty remained.
The laurel became the tree of Apollo, from which came the laurel wreath of victory and achievement. A crown well deserved by Bernini.

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