The Rape of the Sabine Women

The right arch in the Loggia della Signoria is dominated by the so-called Rape of the Sabine Women, a technical masterpiece by Giambologna. The artist did not originally intend to sculpt the legendary episode from early Roman history with the rape of the Sabine women by Romulo's companions; his intention was to create just three interacting figures in movement: a mature man, a youth and a beautiful woman, taken by the younger man from the weaker, older one.

This kidnap, according to Jean Boulogne, could be applied to the universal metaphor of love that conquers all. Thus, in place of a story, he gave a sculpted shape to an eternal subject, purposefully evoking the theme in the carnal and "fierce" dimension that is always found in real life, but without using an overly vulgar means of expression. Nonetheless, the subject was easily understood and could have been in reference to different episodes in literature, such as the kidnapping of Helen or of Persephone, or even the rape of the Sabine women, represented for example in the early 16th century by Polidoro da Caravaggio on the frescoed façade of Casa Milesi in Rome.

For this piece, Giambologna focused on a naturalness of expression, conveyed by the naked body, to express the good looks of the young lover, the charms of the woman and the beaten character of the old husband. We should also remember that in the late 16th century, a kidnapping for reasons of love was one theme where nakedness did not overly offend the religious sensibilities of the Catholic Reform. In fact, the pleasant naked forms recreated in stone by Giambologna overcame any excessive eroticism with their cerebral, neo-classical feel and exact shapes. A true example of the artist's skill lies in the creation of three figures on a large scale (4 metres 10 in height) out of a single block of marble, beating Michelangelo and Baccio Bandinelli.

In this piece, Giambologna succeeded in rotating the parts of the group so that they move upwards, almost growing on the pedestal, mathematically, one into the other. At the same time, he created them so that they do not move too far away from the solid lower volume, so as to support the weight of the three masses.

This piece, which was finished around 1582 with the help of Pietro Francavilla (1548-1615), was so well liked by Francesco I that he chose it for the Loggia della Signoria in January 1583.