If you asked me to name my favorite sculpture, the answer would be easy: Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne. While baroque painting was never my favorite—except Caravaggio, because it is impossible not to adore Caravaggio and his bloody, beautiful youths—baroque sculpture and architecture is truly amazing. And what Bernini could do with a slab of marble is particularly amazing.
Just look at the way her limbs change into trees! It’s like looking at music. It’s so poetic and deeply alive. This sculpture shows the culmination of the myth of Daphne, a river nymph (and thus a woman after my own waterlogged heart) who is chased by the god Apollo, who seeks to possess her after being hit with Cupid’s mischievous arrow. Daphne calls out to her father, the god Poseidon, and begs for some way to avoid the seemingly inevitable rape. He decides the best thing to do is to turn her into a tree, because this is before we had words for everything and dendrophilia hadn’t yet been invented. Bernini, like all baroque artists, seemed drunk with drama, and so he chose to depict the “couple” at the moment of her transformation.
Yes, it’s a statue of a woman escaping her rapist by becoming a plant. It is dark and a little terrible, but it’s also breathtakingly beautiful and amazingly detailed. I hope someday I get to see it in person.