Scipione Borghese had the ambitious project of giving a modern shape to the ancient myths, offering an exceptional sculptor like Bernini to measure himself against literature and the representation of such a difficult topic as metamorphosis. It was within this idea that Bernini, the most representative Roman baroque artist, conceived the stunning sculpture of Apollo and Daphne.
In Ovid's text, Apollo claimed no one could beat him in the art of archery. For his presumptuousness Cupid punished him making him fall in love with the beautiful nymph Daphne, who had instead devoted her life to Diana and the art of hunting. Apollo's love is uncontrollable, Daphne asks for her father's help, Peneus, the river God who, to impede their mating, turns her into a laurel tree, which since then became sacred to Apollo. This is, in short, the episode that Bernini faithfully represented catching the exact moment of the metamorphosis of the nymph into a tree.
This extreme gesture of love and rejection is captured by Bernini's genius just like an instant photo: the white marble communicates Apollo's passion and Daphne's despair. The scene is moving, Apollo is trying to reach the nymph whose arms are already becoming tree branches, and her legs are half transformed in trunk and roots. The sculpture gives the impression of movement, and conveys a sense of dynamic evolution which captures in a statue all the drama contained in the story.