According to Greek Mythology, Persephone or Proserpine, who later became the queen of the underworld, was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, the goddess of harvest and fertility. Demeter was very much protective of her daughter and she meant to keep her innocent and virginal forever, always by her mother’s side. Gradually, as Proserpine grew up to be a lovely girl, she started to attract the attention of many gods, especially Hades, brother of Zeus and the god of the Underworld. Hades was middle-aged, living in the dark, among the shadows of the Dead and not at all worthy for the young beauty.
Hades knew it well that the beautiful Proserpine will never accept him as her lover or husband. So he hit upon a plan and one day while the young maiden was picking narcissus flowers, he kidnapped Persephone and carried her back to the Underworld to be his wife and the queen of the Underworld.
When Demeter learns that her daughter has been kidnapped by Hades, she flies into a rage and forsakes her duties as goddess of the harvest, causing a great famine. She refused to lift the curse until she saw her daughter again. Sensing a deep problem, Zeus, the king of the gods, intervened and sent Mercury to the Underworld to ask his brother, Hades to return Proserpina. Meanwhile, Hades persuaded Proserpina to eat few seed of pomegranate. The pomegranate, known as the fruit of the dead, creates a mesmerizing effect on the persons, who consume them and they do not like the idea to leave the Underworld.
However, a compromise was reached and Proserpina agreed to stay two-third of a year with her mother and the remainder of the time she would stay with Hades as queen of the Under world. According to the myth, the months Persephone spends in the underworld leave the earth cold, dark, and wintry and as she returns, spring, summer and rain accompany her.
The stunning sculpture, the Rape of Persephone, was commissioned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese of the Catholic Church from a young Italian sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1621.However, soon it was replaced by ‘Apollo and Daphne’, a life-sized Baroque marble sculpture by the same Italian artist, while the Rape of Persephone was relocated to the Galleria Borghese. It should be noted in this context that, during those days, the word ’rape’ was used to signify ‘kidnapping’ and thus, the sculpture actually represents the kidnapping of Persephone.
The Rape of Persephone is a stunning sculpture, exemplifying one of the best baroque and demonstrates Bernini's skill to produce incredible human figures in marble. Bernini's pieces can always be identified by the minute details and the dramatic situation, filled with heart-rending emotion. In the Rape of Persephone, he again decided to depict the most dramatic moment, the climax of the story, full of exuberant movement, emotive facial expressions, and feats of technical mastery.
Proserpine’s desperate, but vain struggle to escape from the grasp of Hades by pushing his face with her left hand and Hades’ fingers sinking in her soft thigh, is incredibly depicted with flawless details. The way Bernini made the tenderness of Proserpine's flesh with amazing lifelike likeness is simply unbelievable. The Rape of Persephone, in fact, represents an amazing contrast of tenderness and cruelty.
Added to it, the figures are twisted and are straining in opposing directions, which magnifies the frenzied movement of the tense struggle, complete with an explosive dynamism.