Their abduction had been political motivated, for following unsuccessful negotiations to remove the marriage restriction then in place, the Romans, setting diplomacy aside, felt the need to resort to force in an effort designed to literally expand the size of their tribe. Yet, if we believe this proximate mythical tale, if not the first, this had to have been a prototypical use of the term 'sweet talked', for eventually their 'female guests' were convinced or otherwise swayed to agree to wed their needy, bachelor, Roman abductors. According to the story, the Romans sought families but were thwarted due to the shortage of females among their tribe. I don't want to make light of what happened. In this case however, history, if we can go so far as to call it history, has no-doubt toned down the actual events. To modern ears, the unusual use of the term rape in the title of this work may in fact be too harsh. Unlike our modern interpretation of the word, with all of its violent sexual connotations, it is derived from the Latin raptio 2, which in the context of what happened, means to kidnap, seize or abduct. In this early example of nations, or better yet, tribes without borders, these omniscient Romans, knowing what was best, had seized what they wanted. They continued along this line for the next thousand years.
The Rape of the Sabine Women was carved by Giovanni Giambologna. In its day it represented a breakthrough in artistic expression, and for Giambologna represents his greatest achievement, a masterwork reaching new heights. Essentially an immigrant, he was illiterate in the Italian language and remained so. His work, however, served him well as an excellent translator, speaking volumes, more than enough to elevate him to the status of preeminent sculptor of the Medici court for 50 years. Driven by his work ethic, as the Urbinate Ambassador Simone Fortuna wrote to the Duke of Urbino in 1580:
To demonstrate his artistic abilities, as subjects for his composition, he selected a trinity of life-size nude figures crowded closely together—a subjugated Sabine man crouched in a defensive posture between the legs of the abductor; the triumphal Roman kidnapper at its center clutching his prize held high above him; and to complete the trio, a distraught Sabine woman, caught-up in a twisted, intensely passionate struggle, attempting to escape the clutches of her assailant.
Standing at the base of Giambologna's achievement, I wondered why it had been relegated to the Loggia in the first place. It makes sense, however, when we realize that at that time there was no Galleria degli Uffizi. Uffizi, meaning ‘offices’, were the administrative offices of the city. The private art treasures of the House of Medici, seen only by invitation, accumulated in these offices through the years. In the meantime, the Loggia functioned as the public’s museum until 1765 when the Galleria degli Uffizi opened. The pieces in the Loggia could have been handpicked for their message, just as the paintings and symbols in the churches told the message of Christianity. Was there sub-textural meaning in the subjects and themes presented there, directed toward the citizenry? The presence of two sculpted Medici lions intimated strength. Likewise, the nearby Perseus clasping a severed head could have signaled a warning to all who might contemplate opposing the Medici. Had The Rape of the Sabine Women some additional subliminal message—power, dominance, the strong due their chattel, perhaps strength over weakness? These thoughts and more swirled through my head as I approached. Looking at this enormously successful work, it was clear that Giambologna had studied Michelangelo's techniques well. Michelangelo believed his subjects were already in the stone, only waiting to be released. If so, Giovanni had his work cut out for him for he had not one, as in Michelangelo's David eighty years earlier to contend with, but three figures to cleave from a single block of stone. His extraordinary work was carved, one tap of the hammer on chisel after another, from not only the largest block ever transported to Florence, but reportedly a flawed one at that. While for me it was but hours after sunrise in the Piazza, it was centuries earlier in the Loggia. Gazing up at it on its pedestal, where it has rested since it first debuted on the world stage in 1582, I was awestruck trying to comprehend that this intimate struggle rising before me was from that single block, regardless of how large and however flawed.
from crouched to standing to an arched extension thrust skyward—Giambologna adds to his thesis, positioning the Sabine woman with a leg crossed close to her the opposite ankle. With this architectural subtlety, he exposes the delicate detail of the cushions beneath her feet, here again appearing astonishingly natural in every respect. Without question, here was something amazing.
1 The New York Times, 28 July 2014, "Masterworks vs the Masses" by Rachel Donadio
2 Roman Mythology - Crystalinks, http://www.crystalinks.com/romemythology.html
3 From: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9314.pdf, Introduction, Princeton University Press