Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bees of the Barberini

As was suggested the other day, the allusion to bees at the end of Book I of Paradise Lost could be a dig at a powerful Roman family.

Figures of bees can be found throughout St. Peter's in Rome, because they were the emblem of the Barberini family, a powerful clan originally from Florence that became a dynasty in Rome in the 17th century.

Urban VIII (1623-1644) was born Maffeo Barberini, and extremely powerful, expanding the territories of the Papacy through battle. He also was the friend and later stern chastiser of Galileo, as well as a patron of Bernini. It was Urban who consecrated the new St. Peter's Basilica in 1626, and Bernini went on to create the famous piazza and colonnade of St. Peter's.

In this image by Bernini, Urban could almost be wearing a beehive:

Bernini also produced this image of the rape of Proserpina in 1621-22, which Milton could have seen during his trip to Italy. The event memorialized in Bernini's art is beautifully alluded to in Book 9 of P.L., at the moment of Eve's fall:

In likening the devils in their conclave within Pandaemonium to bees, Milton was effortlessly evoking large features of Roman Catholicism, the papacy, top-down religious control of the intellect (science), and the concomitant absence (as he saw it) of individual liberties of thought and speech.

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