The Influence of Bernini on Rodin: Mythological Sculptures

By Mary Williams

Figure 16: Bernini, "Pluto and Persephone," 1621-1622, Rome, Galleria Borghese (source-

Figure 16: Bernini, “Pluto and Persephone,” 1621-1622, Rome, Galleria Borghese (source-

Mythological subjects were popular with both Rodin and Bernini. Each artist chose different narratives to illustrate, but Bernini’s work informed Rodin in the depiction of flesh and emotions of the characters. Bernini’s Pluto and Persephone epitomizes his accomplishments in sculpting mythological subjects (Figure 16). Pluto abducts Persephone, and Bernini portrays the moment Pluto grabs and pulls her body. His hand presses into her thigh, and Bernini successfully imitates flesh with marble. Rodin saw the accuracy and lifelike quality of Bernini’s sculpture and learned to create similar effects in his mythological subjects. Cupid and Psyche by Rodin has more simplistic figures than Bernini’s sculpture, and yet he is able to mimic the flesh and vitality of the bodies (Figure 17).

Figure 17: Rodin, "Cupid and Psyche," 1893, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art (source-

Figure 17: Rodin, “Cupid and Psyche,” 1893, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art (source-

Psyche’s arms sweep around Cupid and hold on to his figure. Where the two bodies touch, Rodin did not use the same indentations Bernini includes in Pluto and Persephone (Figure 18).  The characters’ arms graze one another as Rodin chose to represent the tender and soft quality of skin. He also placed the figures on a rough surface to emphasize their smooth skin. Rodin learned the ways marble could become flesh from Bernini, and uses the knowledge to develop a realistic and tender moment between two figures.

Both sculptors were talented at creating relatable narratives as well. In the Pluto and Persephone, Pluto recoils as Persephone pushes her hand into his face. She struggles to free herself from his grip, but Pluto’s hands grasp her too strongly. A close examination of Persephone’s face reveals her tears of desperation (Figure 19). Bernini was able to express both the rage of Pluto and Persephone’s anguish. The viewer not only understands the narrative, he or she understands the intense emotions the characters are experiencing. The emotions in Cupid and Psyche are not as extreme as Bernini’s sculpture, but Rodin conveyed them with the same intensity. Cupid and

Figure 18: Rodin, "Pluto and Persephone," detail of the back of figure (source-

Figure 18: Rodin, “Cupid and Psyche,” detail of the back of figure (source-

Psyche expresses a sense of longing. Psyche holds to Cupid so tightly that Cupid has to grab a rock and pull the two up. The pulling motion mirrors the longing both characters feel for each other. As in Bernini’s work, Rodin’s sculpture causes the viewer to experience the emotions within the narrative. Through Bernini’s accounts of mythological stories, Rodin developed the lifelike qualities of his sculpture. The sculptures’ soft skin and realistic emotions bring the figures to life for the viewer.

Figure 19: Bernini, "Pluto and Persephone," detail of Persephone's tears (source-

Figure 19: Bernini, “Pluto and Persephone,” detail of Persephone’s tears (source-