Bernini’s Pluto and Proserpina: Beauty, death, and eros

The image you are looking at was not taken by a camera. Nor were the fingers pressed into the underside of the woman’s thigh. Nor the index finger–his left index finger–hooked onto her lower rib, marking it. Nor the veins on her butt beginning at the the top of her hip. Nor was the birthmark around the back of her knee, almost touched by her calf. Her left breast and the horizontal scars visible across the back of her left arm are not real either. Her shoulder, flexed, hints at strain.

The scene is dominated by hands and fingers. The thumb, knuckles, and wrist of his left hand all seem certain. His right hand, climbing up and around, is much hungrier, the little finger nearly angry. If his intentions are clear, however, hers are less so. Is she fighting him? Is she into him? Is she grabbing him with even more ferocity? Or shall we conclude all or none?

You are looking at a sculpture. More precisely, an image of a sculpture. It is true: I cannot believe it either.

The woman who sent me the image had come to Rome and, upon beholding these figures, had fallen down on her knees and cried. How could one not, she asked.

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