Sleeping Hermaphroditus

The Statue of Sleeping Hermaphrodite (Sleeping Hermaphroditus) is an ancient marble sculpture depicting Hermaphroditus’s life-size. It has existed since the 2nd century AD and is made from Parian marble (length 145 cm). You can find it in Room V of the Borghese Gallery.


Even though the head of the Statue of Sleeping Hermaphrodite has been restored, it is one of the most famous of the twenty known copies of this masterpiece. In his investigation of the origins, Plato postulated that nature was impartible and perfect before the division of the sexes: the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, Hermaphrodite, was then described by Ovid in a passage of his Metamorphoses, which is the origin of the popularity of this subject.

The Sleeping Hermaphrodite was an invention of Polykles in the period when families of Athenian artists started to work for Roman patrons, the arbiters of the new equilibrium in the Mediterranean (2nd century BC).


A third Roman marble version was found in 1880, during building works to make Rome the capital of a newly united Italy. It is displayed at the Museo Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme, part of the National Museum of Rome. Additional ancient copies can be found at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Vatican Museums in Vatican City, and the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Numerous copies have been created since the Renaissance in various media and scales. Full-size copies were created for Philip IV of Spain in bronze, requested by Velázquez and presently in the Prado Museum, and for Versailles (by the sculptor Martin Carlier, in marble). The composition has affected Velázquez’s portrait of the Rokeby Venus, presently in London. A reduced-scale bronze duplicate, made and signed by Giovanni Francesco Susini, is currently at the Metropolitan Museum. Another reduced-scale copy, delivered in ivory by François Duquesnoy, was acquired in Rome by John Evelyn within the 1640s.

American craftsman Barry X Ball created a life-size duplicate after the Louvre’s adaptation, made from Belgian dark marble on a Carrara marble base completed in 2010.

This sculpture was offered at Christies NY for sale, 10 May 2016. Estimated cost $500,000-800,000


Similar to those made by the demiurges of the classical world, it is a living creature that, lying outstretched in its sleep, radiates ambiguous seductiveness. In one’s opinion, it may appear to be female or male, and its very sleep is ambivalent, seemingly innocent, and troubled. When the collection was reconstituted at the time of Prince Camillo Borghese, the present sculpture replaced one of the same subjects taken to the Louvre in 1807.

The latter, restored by Bernini, had inspired the ceiling decoration in this room with the myth of Hermaphrodite and the nymph Salmacis. Mentioned by Ennio Quirino Visconti, the statue was described in detail by Antonio Nibby. He praised the superb execution and the quality of the marble, which was better than that of the work that had gone to the Louvre. Visconti believed it came from the area of Santa Maria della Vittoria, near the Baths of Diocletian and within the bounds of the ancient Gardens of Sallust, where the more famous Hermaphrodite had been found.

The sculpture was first stored in the cellar of the Villa Borghese, then moved to Palazzo Borghese in Campo Marzio, where it was referred to in glowing terms by Wilhelm Heinse – in Rome from 1781 to 1783 – who also mentioned the restoration and the mattress added by Andrea Bergondi.

Work of Bernini

In 1620, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Scipione’s protégé, was paid sixty scudi for making the buttoned mattress upon which the Hermaphroditus leans back, so strikingly practical that guests are inclined to give it a testing prod

The sculpture was purchased in 1807 with many other pieces from the Borghese Collection by Principe Camillo Borghese, who had married Pauline Bonaparte. It was moved to The Louvre, which inspired Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem “Hermaphroditus” in 1863.

Borghese Gallery in Rome,
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Author: Gian Lorenzo Bernini


Gian Lorenzo Bernini, as architect and city planner, designed secular buildings, churches, chapels, and public squares, as well as massive works combining both architecture and sculpture, incredibly elaborate public fountains and funerary monuments, and a whole series of temporary structures (in stucco and wood) for funerals and festivals.

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