For many years – in fact since I first laid eyes on them – I have loved the marble figures of “Spring In The Guise of Flora” and “Autumn In The Guise of Priapus” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
They are the work of Pietro Bernini (1562-1629), assisted by his more famous son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), who was trained as a sculptor in his workshop.
Flora and Priapus were carved in 1616-17 and created for Cardinal Scipione Borghese as a commission for his Borghese Gardens in Rome. The statues remained there until 1898 when they were purchased by Luther Kountze, who exported them to the gardens of his house in Morristown, New Jersey. Kountze’s descendants later sold the property to the Roman Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, who established the Delbarton School (a boy’s secondary school) there in 1939. The Met acquired the statues from Delbarton in 1990.
Flora is the Roman godess of flowers and, like Priapus, the son of Aphrodite who appears in both Greek and Roman mythology, a fertility figure.
“Each consisting of a half-body merging into a tapering pedestal, they originally stood in the gardens of the Villa Borghese in Rome, at the entrance to the cardinal's Vigna di Porta Pinciana. Appropriately laden with fruits and flowers, the Flora and Priapus, carved in an energetic, rustic fashion, symbolize the abundance of nature in spring and autumn.” (Source: Metropolitan Museum catalogue.)
Flora and Priapus are breathtakingly fresh and beautiful and have the unexpected quality of being vivid, fully-realized sketches in hard stone.
Borghese Gardens, Rome
Kountze mansion, Delbarton School, Morristown, New Jersey
Please see also: Art To Own 1 (Triumphal Arch)