Sleeping Hermaphroditus

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


Despite the fact that 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. Today, it is on display at the Museo Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme, part of the National Museum of Rome. Additional ancient copies can be found at the Uffizi in Florence, Vatican Museums in Vatican City, and the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

Numerous copies have been created since the Renaissance, in a assortment of 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 clearly affected Velázquez’s portray of the Rokeby Venus, presently in London. A reduced-scale bronze duplicate, made and signed by Giovanni Francesco Susini, is presently at the Metropolitan Museum. Another reduced-scale copy, this time 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, which was 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. According to one’s opinion, it may appear to be female or male, and its very sleep is ambivalent, seeming to be both innocent and troubled. When the collection was reconstituted at the time of Prince Camillo Borghese, the present sculpture replaced the one of the same subject that had been taken to the Louvre in 1807.

The latter, restored by Bernini, had inspired the decoration of the ceiling in this room with the myth of Hermaphrodite and the nymph Salmcacis, Mentioned by Ennio Quirino Visconti, the statue was described in detail by Antonio Nibby, who 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 matress 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, from principe Camillo Borghese, who had married Pauline Bonaparte, and was moved to The Louvre, where it inspired Algernon Charles Swinburne’s poem “Hermaphroditus” in 1863.

Borghese Gallery in Rome,

Author: Gian Lorenzo Bernini


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