Monday, 26 January 2009

Daphne into Laurel

I had an awful sequence of violent dreams last night, ending with one where I was being hunted by a pack of hounds through a lushly wooded pastoral landscape, and ended up cowering in a cleft in the ground by a river. This, I fear, is what happens if one reads too much Ovid; or perhaps my Unconscious was taking my blog title too literally.

I can see the landscape of the dream with absolute clarity in my mind, and have just gone to google it - before realising that you can't (yet) google images that are solely inside your head. Imagine putting an electric hairnet on and being able to get a search engine to bring up the images from last night's dreams!

Talking of Ovid, I am reminded of how I was awed as a child by Bernini's fantastically cinematic Apollo and Daphne in the Galleria Borghese, with its astonishing tension between sudden rootedness and sweeping, propulsively fluid energy:



As though caught in freezeframe, Daphne becomes the figurehead of a ship's prow which is also herself, breasting a wave of metamorphosis. A visual paradox: she is never going to move again, but she looks at this final moment as though she is about to take off into the air. She seems most in movement just before being stilled forever. I was fascinated by the way the delicate leaves burst from her fingers, and how Bernini manages to depict her enclosing within a slippery, organic sheath of bark. A sculptor who could believably depict the texture of bark covering over human skin could have done anything. She shrieks in fear and ecstasy as she becomes something else, something non-human, from the inside out and from the ground up. How different it is from Pollaiulo's painting of the same scene, done 150 years or so previously:



Apollo, here in the guise of a modish young Florentine, looks like he's going to run smack into her trunk and break his nose. The image of course has enormous charm - who could resist Daphne's smug smile? - but those two absurd arm-branches make her look like an arboreal cheerleader, and the painting's still-medieval flatness constrasts poorly with the dramatic helical swirl of Bernini's figures.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Blimey, from the title I thought you meant Stan Laurel ...

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