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Great Sculptures of Europe

Many VBT vacations to Europe include stops in cities with world famous museums – either on the trip or on our optional pre- or post-trip extensions. We wanted to provide a list for you of some of the great sculptures that you could see along your journeys. Some are masterpieces that cannot be missed and some are lesser known pieces found in places other than artistic meccas like Paris or Rome.

“Apollo and Daphne” by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Galleria Borghese, Rome)
ApolloAndDaphneThis life-sized Baroque marble sculpture, commissioned by Cardinal Scipione, was created between 1622–1625. The sculpture portrays the story of Daphne and Phoebus in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Although the sculpture may be viewed from every angle, Bernini intended it to be viewed from its side, to let the viewer see the reactions of Apollo and Daphne simultaneously.

 “David” by Michelangelo (Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence)
DavidThis masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture – and possibly the most famous statue in the word – was created between 1501 and 1504 by the Italian artist Michelangelo. The statue represents the Biblical hero David glaring off in the distance with a sling around his shoulder, perhaps a sign that he is intensely waiting for battle. This is in contrast to many depictions of David after he slayed Goliath.

“The Kiss” by Rodin (Museè Rodin, Paris)
The KissThis marble work was inspired by the passionate love affair between Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini made famous in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The sculpture depicts the 13th-century Italian noblewoman falling in love with her husband’s younger brother, Paolo. The lovers’ lips are not actually locked in the piece, suggesting that they were interrupted – and furthermore, killed – by Francesca’s husband Giovanni, without their lips ever having touched.

“Pluto and Proserpina by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Galleria Borghese, Rome)
Pluto and Proserpina
This large marble piece was completed the year Bernini began Apollo and Daphne and depicts Pluto, the commanding god of the underworld, abducting Proserpina, the daughter of Ceres – the Goddess of the Earth. Bernini develops a twisting pose by pushing Proserpina’s hand into Pluto’s face and you can see her hand crease his skin as his fingers simultaneously sink into her flesh.

“Venus de Milo” by Alexandros of Antioch (Louvre, Paris)
Venus De Milo
The “Aphrodite of Milos” better known as the “Venus de Milo”, is an ancient Greek marble statue created sometime between 130 and 100 BC. The statue represents Aphrodite (Venus in Roman), the Greek goddess of love and beauty. The famously absent arms are believed to have shown the right arm lowered across her torso as to hold up the sliding drapery while the left remained outstretched, holding an apple.

“Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons” by Edme Bouchardon (Rue de Grenelle, Paris)
The Fountain of the four seasonsTranslated as “The Fountain of the four seasons”, this monumental 18th-century public fountain is still located in the streets of Paris. The fountain is huge and richly decorated and although its grandiosity irritated Voltaire and other figures of the French Enlightenment, the fountain is the best surviving example of public architecture during the reign of Louis XV.

“Bronze David” by Donatello (Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence)
Bronze DavidThis statue of David, which pre-dates Michelangelo’s by over 60 years, is known  for being the first unsupported standing work of bronze cast during the Renaissance, and the first freestanding nude male sculpture made since antiquity. It depicts David, posed with his foot on Goliath’s severed head just after defeating the giant.

“The Veiled Christ” by Giuseppe Sanmartino (Museo Cappella Sansevero in Naples)
Sanmartino’s Veiled Christ is one of the greatest sculptures of all time. Since the eighteenth century, travelers of all levels of distinction have come to contemplate this artistic miracle and the oft praised finesse of its veil. Legend has it that famed Venetian sculptor, Antonio Canova, once said he would have given ten years of his life to have been the sculptor.

“Sculptures of the Night Watch” by Alexander Taraynov (Rembrandtplein, Amsterdam)

Night WatchAlthough Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum houses Rembrandt’s famous painting, The Night Watch,  Russian artist Alexander Taratynov created a bronze-cast representation of the painting as part of the celebration of the artist’s 400th birthday in 2006. In 2009 the sculptures traveled to New York City and Russia to be displayed before returning to the redesigned Amsterdam square where they serve today as a magnet for visitors.

“Salt Celler” by Cellini (Kunsthistorisches Musieum, Vienna)
Salt CellarCellini’s Salt Cellar table sculpture is crafted from ivory, gold, and vitreous enamel and was completed in 1543 for Francis I of France. The piece depicts Neptune and Ceres – symbolizing their unity in producing salt, mined from the earth. It is sometimes referred to as the “Mona Lisa of Sculpture” due to its famous theft in 2003. It was recovered three years later.

A Scenic Tour de France

For over a century the Tour de France has been cycling’s most celebrated event. And while biking in France in the renowned race is the ultimate honor for a cyclist, you have to admit, it’s kind of a shame that the bikers zip through some of France’s most amazing settings, and they never get to enjoy the scenery, or to hop off their bikes to snap a photo.

That’s the attitude that VBT Trip Leader, Sophie, took with her when she decided she would bike her own personal Tour de France this past spring, summer and fall as a 50th birthday present to herself. What a way to celebrate a milestone!

Biking in France

Sophie’s husband, Bruno, couldn’t resist the opportunity to join in and together the two biked over 3,000 miles of beautiful, French countryside. Sophie explained that she decided to set off on this adventure, “For the small physical challenge of biking 3,000 miles, but also to see things I have not seen.” For most of us this type of mileage would present a pretty hefty challenge. However, Sophie has been leading bike tours in France for VBT for 13 seasons and Bruno has been a VBT Trip Leader for 15 seasons. Clearly, they’re pretty experienced when it comes to biking in France.

The journey began in the southeast of the country and gradually, Sophie and Bruno made their way north. Along the way they had their first encounter with the Canal du Midi, a 17th Century waterway that was constructed to link the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Though it’s over three hundred years old, the canal remains a vital waterway and it also offers a peaceful, tree-lined backdrop for a nice long ride.

Sophie and Bruno took the opportunity to explore a relatively familiar setting from a different perspective when they biked through the French Riviera. They had both experienced the bustle of the popular vacation-spot, but had yet to ride along the southern coast of France.

As the couple moved north, they encountered very different terrain in the form of rolling hills, and even steep mountain passes. Originally from Quebec, Bruno explains, “I choose to make my home in France because it has such diversity in such a small size.” He added with a chuckle, “Being with my wife is also a good reason to live in France.”

Biking in France

Perhaps Bruno and Sophie slightly underestimated the extent of that variety when, late in the season, they ascended a mountain pass in Alsace. As they climbed they encountered, first, dry leaves, then hard, cold rain and finally, snow at the top of the pass. They descended, thankful to get back to cruising along rural country roads at lower elevations.

After wrapping up their very own Tour de France, Sophie and Bruno are even more confident that, for them, France is the best country to cycle in. However, they did recognize that with vacations from Vietnam to Eastern Europe, it’s really hard to pick a favorite destination out of all of VBT’s Bicycling and Walking Vacations. Bruno put it best when he said, “If VBT goes somewhere, it’s because it’s worth seeing.”

Join Sophie or Bruno, biking in France with VBT this year. But don’t let their 3,000 mile journey worry you; when you travel with VBT, you can ride as much or as little as you like.

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