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.
I decided I need a bit more consistency in my posts, so I’m going to start a series where I highlight my favorite artists from history. It’s one part review (I learned so much wonderful stuff in college and then never used it again) and one part blogging exercise. Two parts futile? Perhaps! But does one really need an excuse to look at Mucha’s gorgeous ladies? If your answer is yes, you’re wasting my time, then I really just don’t know why you’re reading my blog.
Mucha was a Czech artist who lived during the late 19th, early 20th century. As you can see from his works, he was pretty invested in the whole Art Nouveau thing—in fact, he practically invented this particular poster style, which went on to become immensely popular in fin de siecle Paris. But Mucha was also crazy popular in his motherland. Following his international success at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris, he returned to Prague to create art that he felt was truly reflective of the Czech history and character.
While a lot of people know him for his pretty posters that adorn dorm rooms of quasi-artsy young adults all over the world, I have always loved his pieces that depict the “Czech woman.” He idealized the Czech peasant ladies, with their strong bodies and long, flowing hair. He wanted to capture the spirit of his small country, and he often did this through allegories. Sure, he also did plenty of advertisements, but I’ll never forget seeing pieces from “The Slav Epic” and his seasons series at the Mucha Museum in Prague. While his style is stamped all over the city, from twisty, organic-inspired light fixtures to hand-painted flowering vines that adorn the exterior of an otherwise unremarkable building, it was fascinating to see so much of one artist’s work in one place. I brought home a poster, which has since been crushed and wrinkled out of shape. But I don’t think I’ll ever throw it out.