A Roman bronze figure of Hermaphroditos
Lot 104
A Roman bronze figure of Hermaphroditos
Sold for £40,000 (US$ 53,741) inc. premium

Antiquities

28 Nov 2017, 10:30 GMT

London, New Bond Street

Lot Details
A Roman bronze figure of Hermaphroditos
Circa early 1st Century A.D.
The nude ithyphallic figure depicted standing, the body turned to peer back over the proper right shoulder to gaze down at a double-mirror held in the lowered proper right hand, angled to catch a reflection of the buttocks, the proper left hand raised to touch the fillet binding the hair, the ribbons of which trail below, the figure atop a ribbed socle, ancient but slightly later in date, 16.4cm high excl. mount; 22.7cm high incl. mount

Footnotes

  • Provenance:
    Reputedly discovered in Spain in the 1950s.
    Private collection, Spain.
    Private collection, UK, in the acquired 1970s from the above.
    On loan to the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg from 1981 onwards.

    Published:
    W. Hornbostel, 'Ein Bild hoher Schönheit' in Antidoron. Festschrift für Jürgen Thimme zum 65. Geburtstag am 26. September 1982, Karlsruhe, 1983, p.101-110.
    A. Ajootian, 'Hermaphroditos nude, kallipygos/dancing', in Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae, vol. V, 1990, p. 272, no. 12.

    Accompanied by a metallurgy report conducted by the Royal Armouries, London in 1994.

    This important bronze is one of only a few known examples of the Hermaphroditos kallipygos type. According to Ovid's Metamorphoses (IV, 285-388), Hermaphroditos was the son of Aphrodite and Hermes and a remarkably beautiful young man. The water nymph Salmacis fell passionately in love with the youth and, when rejected by him, prayed that they could be united forever. One day, when the boy was swimming in her spring, she dove in and embraced him; a kindly god, having heard her lovelorn plea, granted her wish and merged their bodies together to transform them into one immutable bisexual being, with physical aspects of both the male and female sex. This deity was worshipped from the Hellenistic period onwards.

    Hornbostel collated the known examples of the Hermaphroditos kallipygos type in his 1983 work 'Ein Bild hoher Schönheit' (A Picture of High Beauty), presenting this lot as the newest and most significant addition to the corpus. In addition to bronze examples in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (BR 307), Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (IV 2429), and the Archaeological Museum in Cordoba, there is a bronze in the British Museum near identical to the present lot in composition and style, but measuring only 12.3cm in height (1848,0803.44). The British Museum bronze was found in the River Thames, whereas the present lot was reputedly found in Spain. These disparate findspots reflect an enthusiasm across the Roman Empire for the Hermaphroditos myth and its exploration of the blurring of gender lines.

    Unlike the 'Sleeping Hermaphrodite' sculpture type, which seeks to surprise and mislead the viewer by appearing as one sex from the front, and another from the reverse, the kallipygos type positively revels in Hermaphroditos's duality. For as Smith notes, Hermaphroditos 'at one level represented the Utopian amalgam of the sexes' (R. R. R. Smith, Hellenistic Sculpture, London, 1991, p. 134). The youth is here shown peering at a mirror's reflection of their own buttocks, and the front of the body is displayed proudly, with both the breasts and ithyphallic genitals immediately and clearly visible. There seems to be admiration in the subject's gaze (Ajootian goes so far as to suggest that perhaps the 'male aspect is aroused by its female attributes', p. 272), which the viewer is invited to partake in: to marvel at the youth marvelling at themselves. It is likely that this bronze was displayed in a domestic setting, in a garden or within a home. The traditional understanding of these figures has been that they held an apotropaic power, protecting the domain in which they were displayed. Some bronze Hermaphroditos figures seem to have served as supports for mirrors or candelabras, perhaps suggesting they were admired simply for their decorative appeal. The aforementioned layering of the approving gaze in this composition gives a coquettish air to the piece, reflecting a playfulness in the Roman understanding of gender which is often overlooked.

Activities
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    Auction administration - Antiquities
    Bonhams
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  2. Francesca Hickin
    Specialist - Antiquities
    Bonhams
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