Neptune and Triton
|Artist||Gian Lorenzo Bernini|
|Dimensions||182 cm (72 in)|
|Location||Victoria and Albert Museum, London|
Neptune and Triton is an early sculpture by the Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It is housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum of London and was executed c. 1622–1623. Carved from marble, it stands 182.2 cm (71.7 in) in height.
The sculpture was originally commissioned by Cardinal Peretti Montalto, serving as a fountain to decorate the pond in the garden of his Villa Peretti Montalto on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. It was purchased by the Englishman Thomas Jenkins in 1786, from whom it was purchased later that year by the painter Joshua Reynolds. After Reynolds's death in 1792 it was sold to Charles Pelham, who kept it in the garden of his home in Chelsea, London, Walpole House. His descendants moved it in 1906 to their country house, Brocklesby Park, Lincolnshire. It was bought from the family by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1950, although had appeared at an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 1938.
Bernini’s Neptune and Triton references the mythological characters of Neptune (or Poseidon) and his son Triton, the rulers of the seas. Neptune and Triton are deities that appear relatively briefly in classical literature; however, they are deemed important as controllers of the earth and seas. It is a common modern misconception to attribute Neptune to just the seas; however, in Greek myth Neptune is the ruler of earth and all it possesses, just as Zeus is the ruler of the heavens and Hades is the ruler of the Underworld. Triton is actually the character attributed to ruler of (just) the seas. Neptune and Triton are often depicted in water-like settings, holding tridents and usually driving chariots that have horses shooting out from the water.
Bernini’s sculpture gives a slightly different representation of the duo. The story depicted in the sculpture was that Neptune was rescuing the Aenean fleet from raging seas. Bernini re-interpreted the myth, focussing on the responses of Neptune and Triton more than the actual story itself. In the myth, Neptune comes from beneath the seas to split the ships with his trident. Bernini flipped the appearance of the scene, with Neptune pointing the trident downwards and making no reference to the Aenean fleet, thereby giving the impression Neptune ruled the seas from above.
In Bernini’s sculpture, you see Neptune towering over Triton. He appears to be a man in his early thirties, with a beard and wavy locks. Neptune has his legs spread apart and is balancing on a large seashell that carries both himself and Triton. Neptune only has a large sheet covering his right shoulder and gliding in between his legs, revealing parts of the male anatomy. The anatomy of the entire body is defined and the twisting of his torso gives him a more trimmed outline of his muscles, allowing the viewer to pay particular attention to his muscles and how they are contracted or relaxed in his state of movement. While standing, Neptune also holds a trident downward in motion that makes it look like he is about to thrust it at someone. “(H)e turns his angry look towards the water, which gushes forth at his feet, imposing his command by thrusting down with his trident.” His arms are tense, forcefully gripping it to dictate his divine power. There is an implication of wind in the long sheet and Neptune’s hair drift backwards, aiding the illusion of reality.
Triton, Neptune’s son, is positioned below Neptune’s legs, thrusting himself forward to blow the conch shell. He is noticeably younger, maybe a teenage boy, though also with defined musculature. He blows his shell as a horn to announce that the king of the earth and oceans is approaching. Triton grasps Neptune’s leg and ducks his left shoulder between the thighs of Neptune.
The naturalism of the figures suggests the artist's intention to elicit an immediate emotional response to the viewer. Neptune’s furrowed brow gives a sense of his fierce strength. His stance is set in stone, solidifying his divine power. In contrast, Triton looks somewhat submissive while he is grabbing Neptune’s thigh. His face looks to be full of anxiety as if he knows that he should obey whatever Neptune commands him to do. His timid nature and Neptune’s dominate presence display the reality of human emotion and brings back the point of Bernini’s plan to convey myths coming to life.
Bernini gave the audience the chance to “see” these gods in person; in movement. This was Bernini’s first sculpture to “ …work where the silhouette is broken, where the climax of a transitory action is given and where the action extends beyond the physical limits.” The point of the sculpture is bring to face a myth or story to be true and real by its dramatic tension in the body positions and subtle hints at natural life. He was making the myths, rumours and stories an opportunity to be true and demand its viewer to believe in its truth.
- Paul Williamson, ed. (1996). European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum. p. 132. ISBN 978-1851771738.
- "Neptune and Triton by Gianlorenzo Bernini, 1620–2". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 3 March 2012.
- "TO BE SHOWN AT ART EXHIBITION.". Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 - 1954) (Rockhampton, Qld.: National Library of Australia). 24 January 1938. p. 7. Retrieved 9 November 2013.
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