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Statue of a sleeping cupid: a figure for a Roman fountain

138-192 AD
Antonine

Pentelic marble

Height: 60cm
Height (excluding base): 54cm

Museum number: M1025

Vermeule catalogue number: Vermeule 178help-vermeule-catalogue-number

Curatorial note

Cupid sits asleep on an overturned urn, arms and head resting on his left knee which is drawn up under him with the foot placed in the body of the urn. The right foot is planted squarely on the ground. There is a hole through the mouth of the urn matched by one in the bottom of the base, indicating that the figure was part of a fountain design/ensemble.

From the uninspired quality of the workmanship, particularly in the treatment of the Cupid's stomach and its awkward relationship to the legs, the statue was probably Roman garden sculpture, from a small fountain of the Antonine period.

The motif of the resting, sleeping, or mourning Eros, Child, Fisherboy, etc. in this or an exactly reversed, pendant position with right leg drawn up to support the head and hands enjoys a long history in Hellenistic and Roman art, becoming especially popular as a fountain figure in freestanding sculpture of the imperial period and as a mourning guardian in Second Century and later funerary reliefs. The original conception of all these figures which survive in variant Roman modifications goes back to Greek precedent in something like the sleeping (or mourning) boy on the Illissos Grave-relief, now in the National Museum at Athens2; this figure is, however, in a reversed position with head on the right knee. The central figure of this stele has been related to a Fourth Century work, probably by Lysippos, and, regardless of the problems posed by this statuary type3, the Mourning Boy may also reflect a lost original in the manner of one of the great Fourth Century masters, perhaps a seated Eros adapted to a group with Aphrodite or independently as a tomb monument. The subject matter might suggest the Greek sculptor Praxiteles, rather than Lysippos or certainly Skopas. A small, alabaster, late Hellenistic, statuette of Aphrodite removing her sandal, from Byblos and now in the British Museum (1914,1020.1), features (in very high relief emerging from the support) a sleeping Eros of the type that continues in the Soane statue.

In Graeco-Roman times the figure assumes a number of forms, meaning being given according to the costuming or to the varied attributes scattered on the rocks on which he sits. A statue in the Ny Carlsberg, Copenhagen4 is a sleeping Hypnos-Thanatos with bow, quiver, and reversed torch in the rocks at his feet. The style of the body, especially with the rudimentary wings, is close to that of the Soane statue. Another version quite close to the Soane type is a tiny bronze statuette in the British Museum called 'Somnus'.5 A number of other European Museums contain replicas of the type in all sizes and materials.6

The Vatican statue in the Museo Chiaramonti is a fountain figure of the Soane Eros turned into a Sleeping Fisherboy7 and has a parallel in Boston8 ; a smaller type known from a statue in the Antiquario Communale (1670-83), a similar Tiber fragment in the Terme Magazine, and another smaller copy in the Villa Albani9. The statue on exhibition in the Museo delle Terme10 turns Eros into a sleeping figure of a hooded peasant youth. The Villa Borghese Eros11has the head reset, but though reworked all appears to be ancient, inclusive of its section of the base, and of somewhat better workmanship than the Soane example. Both have the same ungainly distortion of the stomach pushed out by the position of the left thigh. This Eros is combined in a lovely Neo-Classic pasticcio with a seated Venus, of which at least the head is ancient. The motive wandered, as did so many Hellenistic and Roman Imperial statuary types, as far afield as Germany, for the figure is found in stone, from Cannstadt and is now in the Stuttgart Museum12.

On Second Century Roman sarcophagi the somnolent Eros becomes a sleeping or mourning funerary Genius, as on an example at the right entrance of the nave of S. M. Antiqua, Rome - a small later Second Century sarcophagus, the front of which shows two winged Victoriae supporting a filleted wreath and at the left corner our figure: left leg up, head on left arm, right on lap, and a torch forming the corner support behind13. At the right end is the identical figure reversed; for the counterpart in a Cinerary Urn in this collection, see Soane M726 (Vermeule 340). A sarcophagus with similar motive in the Museo Nuovo Capitolino14 has been dated by Mustilli in the first quarter of the Third Century. One of the most remarkable manifestations of the composition is on the (front left) end of a lost sarcophagus depciting Erotes enacting the Meleager myth, known from drawings at Windsor15: here Eros sits as somnolent or mourning guardian to the large portals of the tomb or 'the gates of death', seen in the right background.

2 H. Diepolder, Die Attischen Grabreliefs, Darmstadt, 1965, pl. 48; Bulle, Der schoene Mensche, pl. 267.
3 See W. W. Hyde, Olympic Victor Monuments and Greek Athletic Art, Washington DC, 1921, pp. 311-316, esp. p. 312, note 1; F. P. Johnson, Lysippos, Durham, N.C., 1927, p. 237.
4 P.F.S. Poulsen, Cat. and Antike Kunstvaerker I Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek - Billedtavler (1907), I. Tilloeg (1915), 2. Tilloeg (1941), pl. XIII, no. 176.
5 H. B. Walters, Catalogue of the Bronzes, Greek, Roman and Etruscan in the department of Greek and Roman Antiquities, British Museum, London, 1899, no. 1509.
6 See S. Reinach, Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine, Paris, 1898, II, p. 448, no. 6, bronze figure with quiver and bow; IV, p. 279, nos. 1-3, esp. the last with attributes of Herakles. Farnese Collection, no. 42, S. Reinach, Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine, Paris, 1897, I, p. 354; in Room 10 in the Museo Nazionale, Naples also has a quiver and bow on the base.
7 W. Amelung, Die Sculpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin, 1903-08, I, p. 499f., no. 287, pl. 51.
8 W. Amelung, Die Sculpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin, 1903-08, I, p. 499f., no. 287, pl. 51.
9 P. Arndt, Photographische Einzelaufnahmen antiker Sculpturen, Munich, 1893-1912, no. 4561, also 4085; Photo Alinari 27, 618.
10 W. Amelung, Die Sculpturen des Vaticanischen Museums, Berlin, 1903-08, I, p. 499f., no. 287, pl. 51.; S. Reinach, Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine, Paris, 1904, III, p. 158, 2.
11 S. Reinach, Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine, Paris, 1897, I, p. 323, no. 6; Borghese LXXII-640.
12 S. Reinach, Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine, Paris, 1904, III, p. 132, 2.
13 Photo Moscioni, no. 10647.
14 D. Mustilli, Il Museo Mussolini, p. 98, pl.LVIII, no. 232f.
15 4.47, A. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, trans. C.A.M. Fennell, Cambridge, 1882, VIII, no. 8775; C. Robert, Die antiken Sarkophag-Reliefs, Berlin, 1890, III, 2, p. 358f., no. 308, pl. XCVIII.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Unrecorded.

Literature

A. Michaelis, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, trans. C.A.M. Fennell, Cambridge, 1882, p. 474, no. 4.


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