Sleeping Hermaphroditus

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Sleeping Hermaphroditus
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (mattress)
1620 (mattress)
Dimensions169 cm (67 in)
LocationThe Louvre, Paris
Preceded byThe Rape of Proserpina
Followed byBust of Pope Gregory XV

The Sleeping Hermaphroditus is an ancient marble sculpture depicting Hermaphroditus life size. In 1620, Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpted the mattress upon which the statue now lies. The form is partly derived from ancient portrayals of Venus and other female nudes, and partly from contemporaneous feminised Hellenistic portrayals of Dionysus/Bacchus. It represents a subject that was much repeated in Hellenistic times and in ancient Rome, to judge from the number of versions that have survived. Discovered at Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, the Sleeping Hermaphroditus was immediately claimed by Cardinal Scipione Borghese and became part of the Borghese Collection. The “Borghese Hermaphroditus” was later sold to the occupying French and was moved to The Louvre, where it is on display.

The Sleeping Hermaphroditus has been described as a good early Imperial Roman copy of a bronze original by the later of the two Hellenistic sculptors named Polycles (working ca 155 BC);[1] the original bronze was mentioned in Pliny’s Natural History.[2]

Original Borghese copy

Sleeping HermaphroditusThe Louvre, Paris

The ancient sculpture was discovered in the first decades of the seventeenth century—unearthed in the grounds of Santa Maria della Vittoria, near the Baths of Diocletian and within the bounds of the ancient Gardens of Sallust. The discovery was made either when the church foundations were being dug (in 1608) or when espaliers were being planted.[3]

The sculpture was presented to the connoisseur Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who in return granted the order the services of his architect Giovanni Battista Soria and paid for the façade of the church, albeit sixteen years later. In his new Villa Borghese, a room called the Room of the Hermaphrodite was devoted to it.

In 1620, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Scipione’s protégé, was paid sixty scudi for making the buttoned mattress upon which the Hermaphroditus reclines, so strikingly realistic that visitors are inclined to give it a testing prod.[4][5]

The Sleeping Hermaphroditus and many other sculptures were purchased in 1807 from prince Camillo Borghese, owner of the Borghese Collection, who had married Pauline Bonaparte. It was transferred to The Louvre, where it inspired Algernon Charles Swinburne‘s poem “Hermaphroditus” in 1863.[6]

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