One of the most influential European sculptors of the late sixteenth century, Giovanni da Bologna trained in his native Flanders before traveling to Rome in around 1550. On his way home to Flanders, he stopped in Florence, where he remained for the rest of his life, creating monumental marble sculptures and small bronze statuettes depicting mythological, allegorical, genre, and animal subjects. The easy portability and tactile appeal of the small statuettes helped to spread his reputation and influence throughout Europe.
The Art Museum’s bronze is a reduction of Giambologna’s monumental marble in Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, which he created, in the words of a contemporary, “solely to prove his excellence in his art.” The arrangement of the figures exemplifies the aesthetic ideals of sixteenth-century Mannerism, such as the 'figura serpentinata,' a twisting, flame-like line resembling the letter S. Giambologna made sophisticated use of this technique to create a dynamic sculpture designed to encourage viewing from all angles.
The grace of the composition is scarcely compatible with the work's violent subject. "The Rape of the Sabines" depicts a legendary event from Roman history. To secure wives for his men, Romulus—who with his twin brother Remus founded Rome—invited the neighboring Sabines to witness celebratory games. During the festivities, the Romans stole over to the Sabine town and carried off the women. War followed, and continued until the captured women reconciled the two sides.