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Muse holding a Kithara

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: Roman
: 2nd century A.D.
: Marble
: H: 74.0 cm

Ex- private collection, Vienna & Munich; thence by descent to an Austrian private collection, 1974.


Almost entirely preserved except for the broken off part of the lyre, right arm, right top and lower part of the pillar, right lower frontal and back part of the base; damaged are right knee, left palm, and hair on the right side; surface is weathered and worn; there are brown stains on the left side of the base.


The style of this statue of one of the nine Muses is expressively Classicistic, and the composition of the figure reflects the contrapposto attitude. She is standing with her right leg bent and linked to the tall rectangular pillar. Holding a kithara with both hands, the Muse is slightly leaning on the support, her pose is both natural and graceful. Although predominantly frontal, the figure is completely sculptured from the back and does not miss any detail from the rich drapery. The Muse is fully dressed according to Classical fashion: a chiton with short and buttoned sleeves, a belted peplos with long overfold, and a long himation fastened with a circular fibula at her left shoulder, crossing her chest and completely covering her back; she also wears sandals with thick soles. The sculptor differentiated the thickness of the fabric showing the heavy folds and pleats of the outer dress while the sleeve has a thinner fabric with narrow hem and shallow folds radiating around the buttons. Her hairstyle is also a reflection of the Classical model: the long hair is parted in the middle and rolled up. The undulate strands are deeply curved by the running drill demonstrating the Roman period modeling; the grooves create a beautiful chiaroschuro effect which contrasts with the clear surfaces of the face, neck, and chest.

The perfect oval shape of her pretty young face with absolutely regular features expresses calm and great concentration as if the Muse is about to play the instrument and recite her verses. There were few of the nine sisters, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Memory), who were disitnguished by the same attribute: Terpsichore, the Muse of dance and chorus, Polyhymnia, the Muse of hymns and other choral songs, and Erato, the Muse of erotic poetry. The Muses accompanied Apollo, the god of music and prophesy, who, in his turn was often represented holding the kithara. If such a detail of the present figure as the partial revealing of her bare right shoulder and chest was observed, the perception of the image as Erato would be highly probable.

Historical records evidence the presence of the statues of Muses on public view in different places of ancient Rome. Their colossal statues adorned the theatre of Pompey completed in 55 B.C. Pliny the Elder (Natural History XXXVI iv, 34-35) reports that there was a group of marble statues of Apollo, Leto, Artemis and nine Muses by the Greek sculptor Philiskos of Rhodes exhibited in the Porticus of Octavia. In Roman art, much influenced by the retrospective tendencies and favor for the Greek Classical art, it happened very often, when the famous sculptures installed in Roman public monuments were lately reproduced in the statues of smaller scale or on the reliefs such as the fronts of the marble sarcophagi. However, the originals by Philiskos, the Hellenistic sculptor of around 100 B.C., did not survive, which makes difficult the identification of the well-known archetype. For this present statue of one of the nine Muses, it seems, there is a numismatic image which testifies that the sculptural type of a Muse leaning on a pillar was familiar in Rome already in the 1st century B.C. (the coins mint by Q. Pomponius Musa in 66 B.C.).


BIEBER M., The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age, New York, 1967, pp. 22-23, 100, 128-130, 160.

Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), vol. VI, s.v. Mousa, Mousai, no. 268.

RIDGWAY B.S., Hellenistic Sculpture I, The Styles of ca. 331-200 B. C., Madison, Wisconsin, 1990, pp. 246-274.




H. Korban Art Gallery, Catalogue Greek & Russian Icons, Ancient Art, Vienna, 1970, p. 30, no. 201.


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