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derivation from Bernini Gian Lorenzo

(Naples 1598 - Rome 1680)

This bronze Neptune captures the god in a moment of wrath, in the act of plunging his trident downwards. His right shoulder and sides are wrapped in a flowing garment, while a dolphin tries to make his escape from between his legs.

The work is a smaller-scale replica of the marble Neptune sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1622 for the fishpond of Villa Negroni Montalto, which was torn down at the end of the 19th century.

Bernini’s sculptural group is held today at the Victoria and Albert Museum of London. This replica substitutes a dolphin for the Triton of the original, which was inspired by the episode of the flood caused by Jupiter, narrated by Ovid in the Metamorphoses.

Critics do not agree on the artist of our small bronze: some believe the sculptor belonged to Bernini’s circle while others have proposed a copyist of the Florentine school.

Object details

post 1622
cast bronze
height 54 cm

Prince Corsini, ante 1831; purchased by Italian state, 1883; Galleria Borghese storerooms, 1945.

Sigla “P C”, Principe Corsini, sul retro della spalla, apposta in occasione del fedecommesso del 1831 della Collezione Corsini.
  • 1998 Roma, Galleria Borghese
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 2008/ 2009, RSTE: E.M. Conservazione + Arch. S.r.l.


The god of the sea is shown leaning forward as he plunges his trident downwards, with his weight on his right leg. His hair and beard are flowing, while his gaze shows anger. Moved by the wind, his garment is wrapped around his shoulder and slides down to his legs. The impression conveyed is that Neptune has been captured in a moment of intense excitement.

This small bronze is a reduced-scale, simplified copy of the sculpture group executed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1622 for Cardinal Alessandro Peretti Montalto, who placed it in the large fishpond of his villa. The building was demolished at the end of the 19th century to make room for the Roma Termini railway station.

Bernini’s sculpture was inspired by the episode in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (I, 240-415) which tells of Jupiter’s wrath against men for their corruption. As punishment he decides to cause a flood, which his brother Neptune triggers by striking the ground with his trident. In the end, only the innocent and pious Deucalion and Pyrrha are left on earth, the progenitors of a new human race. Jupiter’s anger is assuaged, and Triton announces the end of the flood by blowing on his conch shell. The two figures of the group are thus meant to represent two different moments of the episode: the terrible effects of divine wrath are followed by the calming of the god’s ire – the harbinger of salvation – events which inevitably echo the Biblical story of the Deluge (Schütze, in Bernini scultore, 1998, pp. 174-175).

The depth of the garment and the rich chiaroscuro of the god’s face in the marble prototype were justified in light of its intended placement in an outdoor setting, where it had to contend with the blinding light of the Roman sun. The dramatic effect of our bronze is weakened by the substitution of the dolphin for the Triton blowing the conch and of the rock for the shell on which the two protagonists were balanced in the fishpond: this difference and the simplification of several details were mainly the result of the technical difficulty of reducing the model to such small dimensions.

Critics have expressed different opinions about the identity of the sculptor of our work. While Voss considered it a copy (1910, p. 385), Muñoz (1916, pp. 108-9) proposed that it was a variation by Bernini himself, dating to several years after the execution of the original. De Rinaldis (1948, p. 209) suggested that the small bronze may have been the fruit of an initial conception which Bernini had for the subject. For his part, Faldi (1954, p. 43) believed it to be a later replica by an artist of Bernini’s close circle. Schütze (in Bernini scultore, 1998, p. 176), finally, maintained that it was one of the many copies of the great sculptor’s works – rarely made from his prototypes – which were produced over the course of the 17th century for collectors and for purposes of study; along these lines, Montagu (1996, pp. 6-7) noted that such copies were especially widespread in Florentine artist circles.

The small statue came from the Corsini collection, which contained numerous exemplars of small Florentine bronzes, with which our work shares the same surface treatment and characteristic dark glaze. This circumstance has led some critics to propose an attribution to Giovan Francesco Susini, who in 1639 produced a copy of the Hermaphrodite, which Bernini himself had restored for the Borghese family (Schütze, in Bernini scultore, 1998, p. 176).

The trident was stolen in 1947, replaced later by an identical version (Faldi, 1954, p. 43).

  • H. Voss, Berninis Fontänen, in "Jahrbuch der Preußischen Kunstsammlungen", XXXI, 1910, p. 99­129, in part. p. 122.
  • H. Voss, Über Berninis Jugendentwicklung, in "Monatshefte für Kunstwissenschaft", III, 1910, pp. 383­389, in part. p. 385.
  • A. Muñoz, Studi sul Bernini, in “L’arte”, 19, 1916, pp. 99-114, in part. pp. 108-109.
  • E.R.D. Maclagan, Sculpture by Bernini in England, in “The Burlington Magazine for connoisseurs”, 40, 1922, 56-63, pp. 112-120, in part. p. 115, n. 38.
  • A. De Rinaldis, L’ arte in Roma dal Seicento al Novecento, Bologna 1948, p. 209.
  • I. Faldi, Galleria Borghese. Le sculture dal sec. XVI al XIX, Roma 1954, pp. 42-43, n. 39.
  • J.W. Pope Hennessy, Catalogue of Italian sculpture in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London 1964, II, p. 600.
  • R. Wittkower, Gian Lorenzo Bernini: The Sculptor of the Roman Baroque, 2a ed. riveduta e ampliata, London 1966, p. 178; trad. it. Milano 1990, p. 234.
  • J. Montagu, Gold, silver and bronze: metal sculpture of the Roman baroque, New Haven 1996, pp. 6-7.
  • S. Schütze, scheda in Bernini scultore. La nascita del Barocco in casa Borghese, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese 1998), a cura di A. Coliva, S. Schütze, Roma 1998, pp. 170-179, cat. 15.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 139, n. 18.
  • Exhibition Effigies & Ecstasies: Roman Baroque Sculpture and Design in the Age of Bernini, catalogo della mostra (Edimburgo, National Gallery of Scotland, 1998), a cura di A. Weston-Lewis, Edinburgh 1998.
  • A. Coliva, L’invenzione della scultura di storia: i gruppi borghesiani, in Bernini, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2017-2018), a cura di A. Bacchi, A. Coliva, Milano 2017, pp. 133-153, in part. pp. 138-139.
  • M.G. Bernardini, Le fontane di Bernini: disegni e bozzetti, in Bernini disegnatore: nuove prospettive di ricerca, a cura di S. Ebert-Schifferer, T.A. Marder, S. Schütze, Roma 2017, p. 218.
  • A. Cosma, Verso un nuovo fedecommesso: vicende del palazzo e della collezione Corsini tra dispersioni, restauri e riallestimenti (1795-1829), in Storie di Palazzo Corsini protagonisti e vicende nell’Ottocento, a cura di A. Cosma, S. Pedone, Roma 2017, pp. 29-30.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/00701255, Papini M. L., 1994; aggiornamento Felici S., 2020.