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Neptune with Dolphin (Front)

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

The J. Paul Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles, United States

Neptune, Roman god of the sea, stands astride a dolphin on a bed of waves, lunging forward with his trident into the viewer's space. His unruly hair and beard and the billowing drapery that winds around his muscled figure evoke the sense of a whipping wind over the ocean. The flattened planes with which the sculptor modeled the muscles on the chest, arms, and legs heighten the feel of strength in the figure's movements. His intense focus on an unseen object before him adds a menacing tone. This drama of physicality and motion is characteristic of the Baroque style.

The tabletop bronze is a reduced variant of a marble fountain sculpture made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini around 1620 for the garden of the great collector and patron, Cardinal Montalto, in Rome. All of the four known versions in bronze include a long-bodied dolphin between Neptune's legs, replacing the figure of a triton who served as a supportive strut on the marble statue. Reductions in bronze are unusual in Roman sculpture of the time; the multiple reproductions of Neptune are probably due to the celebrity of its maker, who dominated Roman sculptural production in the seventeenth century.

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