Rape of the Sabine Woman
The last great sculptor to wield a hammer and chisel in Florence was not a native of the city. He wasn't even Italian. His name was Jean de Boulogne (1529-1608) and he hailed from Douai (then in Flanders, now in France).
The Flemish sculptor settled in Florence in 1555 and stayed there for the rest of his life. He was known in his adopted country as Giovanni Bologna or Giambologna.
Perhaps his most famous work is the Rape of the Sabine Woman (1583), which stands under the right arch of the Loggia della Signoria, better known as the Loggia dei Lanzi.
The sculpture originated as a technical challenge, which Giambologna set himself. He wanted to carve three figures out of a single block of marble and integrate the figures into an action group.
Raffaello Borghini (1537-88), a Florentine poet and art critic, wrote that Giambologna's aim was to 'show the excellence of his art...and, without referring to any story in particular, he created a proud young hero snatching a beautiful maiden from a weak old man.'
And it was Borghini who suggested the title only after the sculpture had been completed. Giambologna clarified the matter by adding the bronze bas-relief of the Rape of the Sabine Women to the pedestal.
The sculpture was also conceived without a preferred viewing position. Prior to this, statues had been expressly designed to be seen from a particular angle. Giambologna challenged this premise by locking the three figures together in such a way as to draw the eye upwards and around as we follow the twisting and turning shapes of the naked bodies.
The sculpture is signed and dated.