There's some significant antecedent action that makes all the difference here. These young folks, Apollo (the Apollo) and Daphne were shot with arrows that created their sad undoing. Cupid (the Cupid) nailed Apollo with an arrow that made him lusty with love. In his mad pursuit of the fair Daphne, he was, as men can be, witlessly consumed.
But Cupid had sunk yet another arrow into the heart of Daphne, one Cupid had loaded with a potion that carried, sadly enough, the exact opposite effect. Thus, the relentless pursuit so evident in this 17th century sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
If you've not seen it before, you can't help but notice that for some strange reason Daphne's fingers are sprouting leaves. Strange things happen in classical lore. Her hair, too, is looking leafy.
Apollo, being Apollo, is, of the two, the stronger; so when Daphne knew her refusals were going nowhere, when she was, I hate to say it, caught, she prayed to her father: "Destroy the beauty that has injured me, or change the body that has destroyed my life." And so the story claims that when she felt Apollo's touch on her, at this very moment, the beautiful young woman became a tree.
You might think such a sudden transformation would appall Apollo, but he's a god. In a way, his ardor didn't miss a beat. Even though, in his hands she had become a tree, he felt her heart beneath the bark, held her branches, even kissed the wood, which, sad to say, made Daphne wince. According to the story-teller, all true. But that you don't see here.
The story continues, even though the sculpture does not. The story goes that wince did not linger. Apollo made Daphne his very own tree, which must have struck Daphne as at least passing sweet because classical lore claims (undoubtedly a male writer) that finally "the laurel bowed her newly made branches, and seemed to shake her leafy crown, like a head giving consent."
That nod is not here in Bernini's sculpture. Maybe the master didn't buy the sweet denouement. But everything else is--Apollo's fierce desire, Daphne's horror, and those fingers on her belly, the very moment of transformation.
In the 1620s, the audience for such Bernini's sculpture probably knew the story. What they saw executed in marble before them was a huge, stunning take, full of life and the human spirit, something alive.
And it's still there, in Daphne's anguish, Apollo's desire, and those fingers creeping round her.
|from Galleria Borghese.it|