One of my favorite sculptures in the world in Bernini’s Rape of Proserpina. I saw it for the first time, when I was Italy with my dad, celebrating my high school graduation. The Borghese Museum was the first place in Rome he brought me. I stood there, in front of the massive, marble sculpture taking in the motion and dominance and fear all carved from stone. The sculpture is carved as if Bernini had the scene playing out in his mind, and pressed pause at the height of the action. He carved it in 1621, during the baroque period. It depicts Hades, the god of the underworld, kidnapping Persephone. Bernini carved the scene so beautifully lifelike that you can see tiny, tragic tears of stone falling down Persephone’s face as she fights for her life against the immortal Hades, whose grip on her never falters. The piece moved me to tears, and I’ve loved Bernini ever since.
A few years later, I was strolling through the Victoria and Albert museum where I came across another depiction of the Rape of Proserpina. This one was bronze, and carved by Vincenzo de’ Rossi. It was sculpted sometime between 1525 and 1587 at the height of the Renaissance. It caught my eye because I had seen the Bernini a few years prior, and this depiction of the same story is strikingly different. Rossi’s piece doesn’t offer much emotion, but rather a perfectly posed setting, carved just before the action. A composed scene with little action or emotion is typical of Renaissance art, and this particular piece displays that perfectly.
100 years is a lot of time. 100 years from today, life expectancy was the age 47 and the American flag had 45 stars. The population of Las Vegas, Nevada, was only 30 and the leading causes of death were Pneumonia and Influenza. If so much can change in 100 years why didn’t the portrayal of women change? How is it that art from two different time periods 100 years apart looks so drastically different and yet the women depicted in art haven’t changed at all? These pieces of art say so much about the way women were thought of. They tell a story of women as weak, helpless creatures just waiting to be dominated by a male. If art and technology and society can progress, shouldn’t gender roles?
These two depictions of the same scene had me thinking a lot about how women have been regarded through time. Each of these pieces portrays women who are objects for the taking. These pieces put women who have their choices taken away on display. It struck me that in the 100 years of history between these two masterful pieces of art, there was progress made in the technology used to create art, in how art was bought and sold, how artists were thought of, and yet in those 100 years women were still portrayed as objects dominated by men.
Seeing these two pieces of art made me question what my role as a female is in the world. What progress do I want to see in gender roles in the next hundred years that I can be a part of? I’ve discovered I can be part of this progress by paving my own way in societal structures and being the woman I want to see depicted in art in the future.