Statue of Sleeping Hermaphrodite2019-07-12T13:40:58+00:00

Project Description


The Sleeping Hermaphrodite is a marble sculpture depicting the character of Greek mythology Hermaphrodite, son of Hermes and Aphrodite, life-size. There are numerous ancient examples and modern copies; the most famous is the one today at the Louvre Museum, where the statue lies on a specially carved mattress by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The model derives from the ancient depictions of Venus and other female artistic nudes, and partly from the contemporary Hellenistic feminised representations of the god Dionysus / Bacchus. It is a subject repeatedly repeated during Hellenism and ancient Rome, judging also by the large number of versions that have survived.

The first example found in the modern age, discovered in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, was immediately claimed and then acquired by Cardinal Scipione Caffarelli-Borghese and became part of his collection. Following the Italian campaign (1796-1797), it was subsequently sold to the French occupants, who transferred it to the Louvre museum, where it still stands today.

This Hermaphrodite is a well-made imperial Roman copy, inspired by a bronze original by one of the two Greek sculptors named Polycles, (probably “the Younger” from the 2nd century BC); the original sculpture, which could be dated to around 155 BC, was also mentioned in the Naturalis historia by Pliny the Elder.
The ancient sculpture was found in the early seventeenth century, brought to light in the park of “Santa Maria della Vittoria”, near the baths of Diocletian and on the edge of the ancient Sallustian horti; the discovery was made during the construction of the church, from the moment the foundations were excavated in 1608 to when the palmette was planted [3].

The work was immediately shown to one of the greatest art connoisseurs of the moment, Cardinal Borghese, who in exchange for granting the statue allowed his own personal architect, Giovanni Battista Soria, to contribute to the construction of the church, making him finish the facade (even if only sixteen years later). Meanwhile in his new Villa Borghese the cardinal prepared a room expressly dedicated to his Hermaphrodite.

In 1620 the very young Bernini, sculptor then pupil of the Borghese, was paid 60 scudi to create the marble bed on which Hermaphroditus is placed: the yield is surprisingly realistic, so that at first glance the observers are inclined to believe it real [4] [5].

The sculpture was later purchased in 1807, along with many other pieces from the same collection, by Prince Camillo Filippo Ludovico Borghese who had married Paolina Bonaparte, and was then transferred to the Louvre (where, among others, he was a source of inspiration for the English author Algernon Charles Swinburne, who dedicated a poem to him, “Hermaphroditus” of 1863