Il Ratto delle Sabine by Giambologna


This is the sculpture named “Il Ratto delle Sabine” (The Rape of the Sabine Women) here the English translation “rape” is not in its conventional meaning of sexual violation, is more a free translation by Latin word “raptio”, which in this case means “abduction“. The statue represent a young man lifting a young woman into the air while a second old man crouches. The statue is 4 metres for 10 in height out of a single block of marble.

The sculptor was Jean Boulogne, also known as Giambologna, born in 1529 in Douai, Flanders which is now in France . He moved in 1550 in Rome to study, here he was influenced by the sculpture of classical antiquity and by Michelangelo too, but he developed his own style. In 1553 he settled in Florence where he had his most productive years and became one of the Medici most important court sculptors.

The Rape of the Sabine Women is a legendary episode in the history of Rome, it maybe took place in 750 BC. Romulus, one of the two twin brothers founders of Rome by its foundation myth, and his male followers, in order to start their own progeny, seeking wives. The negotiations with the Sabines who populated the area was unsuccessfully. They refused to allow their women to marry the Romans fearing that they’ll became a powerful rival society. In response to that, Romans planned to abduct the Sabine women, during the festival of “Neptune Equester”.

Neptune was associated with fresh water springs before the sea, he was worshipped by the Romans also as a God of horses, under the name Neptunus Equester, a patron of horse-racing. Usually in the Ancient Rome, on the 21st of August, horses and mules crowned with flowers were bring in procession and then equine races in the Circus were held. These games had a rustic character also, because they marked the end of the yearly agricultural cycle, when harvest was completed. At the signal Romulus gave during the festival, Romans grabbed the Sabine women and fought off Sabine men. The indignant abductees were soon implored by Romulus to accept Roman husbands. Titus Livius Patavinus (Livy in English) the Roman historian who narrate about the Rape of the Sabine Women, makes clear that no sexual assault took place and indeed Romulus offered Sabine women free choice and promised civic and property rights to them.

Giambologna originally wanted to create just three interacting figures in movement: a youth and a beautiful woman taken by the younger man from the weaker, the older one, so he didn’t want to sculpt the legendary episode, but according to him the kidnap, could suits the universal metaphor of ”love conquers all”. An ulterior motive was to prove his ability to create a complex sculptural group. The subject was invented after Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, to put the statue on public soil in the right arch in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Piazza della Signoria, Florence, Italy. The statue offers multiple viewpoints, contrasted with the serene single-viewpoint pose of the nearby Michelangelo’s David, finished nearly 80 years before.


On the background “Hercules Fighting the Centaur Nessus” still by Giambologna.


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