Pluto and Proserpina
- Place of origin:
ca. 1565-1570 (made)
de Rossi, Vincenzo, born 1525 - died 1587 (attributed to, maker)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Credit Line:
Lent by the National Trust
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 50a, case FS
Having been struck by Cupid's arrow, Pluto, the God of the Underworld, caught sight of Proserpina picking flowers in a meadow. Immediately inflamed with love, he carried her off to his kingdom.
The Rape of Proserpina was brought to England in 1896 by the future 1st Viscount Astor, who brought it to Cliveden House, Buckinghamshire. The 2nd Viscount Astor gave Cliveden and its sculpture to the National Trust in 1942. The group was removed for conservation in 1989, following which it was decided to place it on long-term loan in the Museum.
De' Rossi worked for several years in Rome before returning to Florence in 1560, where he was employed by the Medici Grand Dukes. The group was cast in one piece, as described in contemporary treatises, but still a difficult technical achievement at that time for such a large sculpture.
The bearded Pluto holds Proserpina up in his arms, gripping her round the waist. Her right arm is flung out and she is looking over her shoulder back towards Pluto. Neither figure is clothed but a piece of drapery is wound between their bodies and over his shoulder. Proserpina wears a crescent moon diadem, and Pluto would have originally worn a crown.
Place of Origin
ca. 1565-1570 (made)
de Rossi, Vincenzo, born 1525 - died 1587 (attributed to, maker)
Materials and Techniques
Weight: 1111 kg statue, Weight: 250 kg plinth top, Weight: 356 kg plinth bottom, Height: 225.5 cm, Width: 160.3 cm, Depth: 120.2 cm
Object history note
The Florentine Giovan Vettorio Soderini (1527-1597) bought the work from Peri in 1570. In 1594 it was sold to the Florentine Antonio Salviati (1554-1619), whose family was closely associated with the Medici Grand Dukes, by Soderini’s son Pier Tommaso. There is a drawing in the V&A of a garden design (E.571-1975), which shows a semi-circular screen wall around a central circular basin. In the centre of the courtyard is a fountain – atop which is the Pluto and Proserpina group (but without Cerberus – indicating again that it never formed part of the final sculpture). The drawing has now been attributed to Gherardo Silvani and dated c. 1653 by Bostrom. Silvani completed this drawing and many others for Salviati, as can be seen from the coats of arms depicted, and this design was most likely for his residence in Florence as the scale used is in Florentine braccia (equivalent to approximately 59cm).
The Salviati residence had by 1819 been passed down through marriage and descent to Prince Camillo Borghese (1775-1832), of the Borghese Aldobrandini family. Many alterations were made to the building at this time by Giovanni Baccani, however it is unclear if any changes were made to the gardens.
There is no record of the Pluto and Proserpina group until it was bought by the future 1st Viscount Astor in 1896 and brought to Cliveden House. The 2nd Viscount Astor gave the house and sculpture to the National Trust in 1942. Having been outside for over four hundred years had led to adverse effects on the condition of the group. The National Trust decided to move the group inside to protect it from further deterioration and replace it with a replica outside. The group was removed for conservation in 1989, following which it was decided to place it on long-term loan in the Museum, putting a bronze cast in its place.
Historical significance: Antonia Boström’s two articles in the Burlington (1990 and 1998) go into detail regarding the history and movements of this object, as well as discussing the attribution to Raffaello Peri, who was an assistant of, and may have used a model by, Vincenzo de’ Rossi. The sculpture was once attributed to Giambologna, although there is no documentary evidence for this. The static style of the piece, together with the single viewpoint and the bulky nature of the figures (among other stylistic differences), suggest a closer association with Florentine sculptors of the 1560s and 1570s. Boström compared this piece with works by de’ Rossi, most importantly with a stylistically similar marble group of Paris and Helen (in the Grotto in the Boboli Gardens). The hair, flesh and drapery are all treated in a very similar way, as are the facial expressions and the poses of the bodies.
A small bronze group of Pluto and Proserpina in the Bargello in Florence is stylistically similar to the large group. However, because of the sketchy nature of the piece, it could either have been a copy after the full-scale version or a preparatory model. As this small-scale group could not be firmly attributed to one artist, the authorship of the whole group was initially left open to discussion.
However, a recently discovered document dated 31 May 1570 makes it more certain that the sculptor was Peri. The document describes the sale of the group to Giovan Vettorio Soderini from an agent acting on behalf of Peri. The document describes Peri as both a sculptor (suggesting artistic responsibility) but also as ‘Maestro Raffaeollo fabbricatore di esse statue’ which implies a less important role in the making. A date for the sculpture of c.1565, previously assigned by Boström, still stands.
Pluto, in Greek mythology known as Hades, is the God of the Underworld. There are few myths about him, the main one being his marriage to Proserpina (Persephone in the Greek myth), daughter of Ceres, the Roman goddess of spring and plenty (identified with Greek goddess Demeter). According to Ovid, having been struck by Cupid’s arrow, Pluto saw Proserpina and carried her away to the underworld. In this sculpture, Proserpina is shown with a crescent moon diadem, associating her with the Goddess Diana with whom Proserpina is sometimes identified.
The contents of the 1570 document also make clear that Pluto’s many-headed dog, Cerberus, was not part of the original composition – despite it’s presence in the small scale version in the Bargello.
Historical context note
Unfortunately there is no documentary evidence as to who commissioned this group, and where it was meant to be placed.
Giovan Vettorio Soderini was well known for his architectural and botanical treatises, the most well known of which is the Trattato della Coltivazione delle Viti e del frutto che se ne puó cavare, published posthumously in 1600. His properties in Florence were well known for their botanical gardens, and he was also apparently an accomplished amateur architect designing fortified villas, fountains, a casino and a villa. He was very interested in the inclusion of sculpture in garden designs, both free-standing but also as part of fountains. It is most likely these interests that led him to purchase this work. Boström writes that Soderini, in his Trattato degli Alberi, recommends that water should travel through canals in the garden before emptying into a great fishpond with a large statue in the centre which would take up the water and shoot it out on all sides. He also wrote in this treatise that water is "the soul of cities and gardens [anima delle ville e degli orti]".
He had close links with the Medici family through his wife, Maria del Senatore Leone de’ Nerli, whose paternal grandmother was a sister of Maria Salviati, mother of Cosimo I. For a full discussion of Soderini’s life and a bibliography, see D.M. Manni’s La Vita a Giovan Vettorio Soderini (Florence, 1878).
As can be seen from the V&A’s drawing for the Salviati garden, the group was intended to be part of a fountain. At Cliveden House, it stood on a stone plinth in the parterre (ornamental flower garden) at the end of the formal garden behind the house.
Pluto & Proserpina, attributed to Vincenzo de' Rossi, ca. 1565-1570, Bronze, Italian
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Boström, A. 'A Bronze Group of the Rape of Proserpina at Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire' The Burlington Magazine December 1990, CXXXII, no. 1053. pp829-840
Boström, A. 'The Florentine Sculptor Raffaello Peri' The Burlington Magazine Shorter Notice, April 1998, CXL, no. 1141. pp263-4
Labels and date
Having been struck by Cupid's arrow, Pluto, the God of the Underworld, caught sight of Proserpina picking flowers in a meadow. Immediately inflamed with love, he carried her off to his kingdom (Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book 5, 385-424). Pluto would have originally worn a crown. Proserpina wears a crescent moon diadem, a symbol primarily associated with the goddess Diana, with whom Proserpina is identified in some sources.
A document of 31 May 1570 records the sale of the group by Rafaello Peri, who cast it, to the Florentine Giovan Vettorio Soderini (1527-97), who was famous for his botanical and agricultural treatises. In 1594 it was sold to Antonio Salviati, whose family were closely associated with the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany. The group remained at the Salviati casino until at least 1819, and features in a 17th century design associated with the garden. The palace later passed through marriage and descent to Prince Camillo Borghese (1775-1832). The Rape of Proserpina was acquired with other sculpture from the Borghese family in 1896 by the future 1st Viscount Astor, the American collector and connoisseur, who brought it to Cliveden House, Buckinghamshire, his adopted home in England. The 2nd Viscount Astor gave Cliveden and its sculpture to the National Trust in 1942. The group was removed for conservation in 1989, following which it was decided to place it on long-term loan in the Museum, putting a bronze cast in its place.
Raffaello Peri is twice recorded in 1565 as working with Vincenzo de' Rossi, one of the leading Florentine sculptors of the the mid-sixteenth century, but his activities are otherwise unknown. De' Rossi worked for several years in Rome before returning to Florence in 1560, where he was employed by the Medici Grand Dukes. His most notable works from this period are the over life-size marble groups of Hercules and Nessus and Hercules and Cacus (Palazzo Vecchio, Florence). The group was cast in one piece, as described in contemporary treatises, but still a difficult technical achievement at that time for such a large sculpture. 
Sculpture; Myths & Legends