Hellenistic Bronze Statuette of Hermes
Culture: Greek, Greek-Hellenistic
Period: middle of the 4th century B.C., ca. 340 - 330 B.C.)
Dimensions: H: 26.8 cm
Ex British private collection.
Ex American private collection, 1980’s-1990’s.
The statuette, cast using the lost wax process, is in excellent condition; the wonderfully preserved surface allows one to fully appreciate all of the modeled and incised details of this figure; the eyes were inlaid in silver, which was also used on the modeled wings. Only the left forearm, the left foot, one of the wings and the attributes of the god are missing.
Hermes is represented seated on a boulder, in a moment of repose that one can imagine as a short respite between two missions: along with Hebe,his feminine counterpart, Hermes was the messenger of the Olympian gods. His left leg is extended forward, the right is bent and rests on the rock on which the god places his bare feet; his torso is slightly turned and oriented towards the left in a very smooth movement of rotation that elegantly continues through the neck and the head; the left arm is held low and the hand was probably placed on top of a rock; the right forearm rests on the thigh. In spite of his apparently relaxed and calm posture, the bust of this young man is subjected to a twisting towards the left, which makes this work particularly complex and well structured.The dramatic distribution of weight (the entire left half of the body is in repose, while the right leg and arm are bent) and the frontality of pose typical of Classical works were from the Classical period on not only about providing interest from a number of angles, of which the best is undoubtedly the three-quarter view from the left: perfectly equilibrated and clear with a studied correctness of the depth and the position and excellent separation and placement of the limbs.
The torsion of the body, rendered in a very natural fashion, balances the disequilibrium created by the upsetting of the chiasmus. Contrary to the norm (Hermes was usually presented as a young man, slim with normally developed musculature), in this statuette, the body of the god is treated like that of an athlete, with the musculature well modeled and at the same time extremely forceful, as proven by the rendering of the anatomy of the chest and thoracic cage, of the back and also of the legs. The face is oval and slightly bearded like that of an adolescent, with fine, nuanced features. The preserved wing was attached with a cubic tenon directly into the hair (this statuette does not wear the petasus, the winged helmet of Hermes) that covers the skull like a cap with undulating incisions marking the curls. Just above the forehead, the face is framed by a series of thick curls, which encircle the entire head. On a typological note, this head does not refer to the original Lysippan work: perhaps it represents a portrait of a personage of the highest order, for example a Greek prince. The idea of using a well known sculptural type for the body, together with the head of a historical character is already known by the 3rd century B.C. with the famous Pompeian bronze of Demetrius Poliorcetes.
Although the ancient authors are mute on this subject, contemporary archeological criticism is generally unanimous on an attribution to Lysippos – the most famous Greek sculptor from the second half of the 4th century B.C. – for this image of Hermes. The original, which may have been larger than life (cf. the marble statue of Merida and the head from the Barracco Museum in Rome), is lost, but it can be recreated, especially through some small bronzes, of which none attain the extremely rarified level of quality of this piece. A statuette from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (inv. VI 420, 3rd century B.C.) is certainly the best known replica of this type: the god, represented as a bearded young man, with short hair and without the petasus, is seated on a boulder with his torso leaning strongly forward and his feet bare; in his right hand he holds the caduceus while the left rests on a rock. The contour of the tumescent ears is slightly deformed on the example in Vienna (which recall those of boxers) allowing, among certain savants, an identification of this Hermes as the Enagonios type, the protector of stadiums and palestrae. The elaborations of the Imperial period, of which there are three principal types, are joined by other attributes from the original figure: the beggar’s purse in the left hand, the winged petasus, the chlamys, the sandals, a well known pose, and at times, very strong musculature. Artistically and typologically, this statuette undoubtedly reproduces the original type, like the figure in Vienna, measuring half its size. The only notable variations from the Vienna figure are the presence of the wings, the slightly more rigid position of the torso and especially the type of head, which is very different from Lysippan creations.
BESCHI L., I bronzetti romani di Montorio Veronese, Venice, 1962, pp. 31-60, pl. VI-X.
Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), Vol. V, Zurich-Munich, 1990, pp. 369-370, Nos. 962-966.
Lisippo: L’arte e la fortuna, Rome, 1995, pp. 130-139, No. 4.16; pp. 402-404, No. 6.18.
MORENO P., Vita e arte di Lisippo, Milan, 1987, pp. 65-68.