Two artists take starring roles in the city of Rome: Michelangelo and Bernini. and the best art seems to be tucked safely away (and free for the viewing) in many city churches. Near our hotel we stopped into the Diocletian baths..a disappointing brick facade of ancient baths but half of it repurposed for a church designed by Michelangelo. Include a fantastic sundial put into the floor of the church. we also stopped into a nearby church with the Bernini sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa. I begged Tim to drop in the the 50 cents to illuminate the sculpture so that the golden arrow held in cupid’s hands shone. It was pretty impressive.
Even better was the Villa Borghese, a cardinal’s summer home designed to impress art lovers. It was here I discovered my new favorite piece “Apollo and Daphne,” so smitten was I that I ordered a small replica of it just to remind me of the story.
Read below for the myth that captivated Bernini’s imagination.
Apollo, one of the most powerful gods and a great warrior, mocked the god of love, Eros (Cupid), for his use of bow and arrow. The insulted Eros then prepared two arrows: one of gold and one of lead. He shot Apollo with the gold arrow, instilling in the god a passionate love for the nymph Daphne. He shot Daphne with the lead arrow, instilling in her a hatred for Apollo. Having taken after Apollo’s sister, Artemis (Diana), Daphne had spurned her many potential lovers, preferring instead woodland sports and exploring the forest. Her father demanded that she get married and give him grandchildren. She, however, beseeched her father to let her remain unmarried; he eventually complied.
Apollo continually followed her, begging her to stay, but the nymph continued her flight. They were evenly matched in the race until Eros intervened, helping Apollo catch up to Daphne. Seeing that Apollo was bound to reach her, she called upon her father, “Help me! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger! Let me be free of this man from this moment forward!” And “a heavy numbness seizes her limbs; her soft breasts are surrounded by a thin bark, her hair changes into foliage, her forearms change into branches; her foot, just now swift, now clings because of sluggish roots.” She was turned into a laurel tree.
In spite of Daphne’s rejection, Apollo vowed to love her forever. Apollo also used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to render Daphne ever green. For this reason, the leaves of the Bay laurel tree do not decay.