Neptune and Triton, the marble sculpture created by Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1622-23, depicts the life-size figure of Neptune, wielding his trident in a firm gesture of command, astride the sea-god Triton, who blows on his conch shell to the four corners of the world, signaling for the flood to subside. The interlocking curves of the two figures and their aggressive attitude, generate an air of general excitement, which is further extended by the flowing of Neptune's hair and beard away from his face.
The dynamic composition may have been inspired by the account of the Flood as described by the Roman poet Ovid in his epic Latin poem Metamorphoses. In the poem, Jupiter vowed in anger to destroy life on Earth and instructed Neptune to create a devastating flood. Consequently, Neptune struck the Earth with his trident and released a deluge. After the completion of the destruction, Neptune laid down his trident and asked Triton to blow on his conch shell as a signal for the waters to subside.
Neptune and Triton, the only one of the artist's large-scale works to be held outside Italy, was commissioned by Alessandro Peretti, an Italian Roman Catholic Cardinal Bishop, for the garden of the Villa Montalto in Rome.
Originally, it was the centrepiece of a complex system of fountains and cascades located at the upper end of a large oval fishpond. During the 17th and the 18th Centuries this splendid sculptural group was one of the most imposing sights in Rome.
The Neptune and Triton marked Bernini’s arrival at full maturity as a sculptor. In terms of production, the group falls between the two other equally impressive two-figure sculptures of the artist, the Rape of Persephone and Apollo and Daphne, both housed in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. The Neptune and Triton was sculpted in marble, except for the trident, which was made of copper, though it has since been replaced with a wooden copy.
The original base of the sculpture bore the arms of Allessandro Peretti, Cardinal Montalto, which clearly indicates that the sculpture was commissioned and executed before the cardinal's death in 1623. However, the sculpture was shifted inside the Villa Montalto by 1775.
After that, along with some other statues, it was sold to Thomas Jenkins, an English art dealer in Rome in 1786, who in turn sold it to Sir Joshua Reynolds, the eminent English painter, for about 700 guineas. After his death in 1792, his executors sold it to Lord Yarborough, in whose family it remained until the Victoria and Albert Museum, London bought it in 1950 with the assistance of the National Art-Collections Fund.