Sleeping Hermaphroditos, a Roman Imperial work (2nd century AD), which was discovered near the Baths of Diocletian in Rome, and probably inspired by a Greek original of the 2nd century BC. The mattress was sculpted by Bernini.
With the voluptuous curves, one might assume walking by this sculpture, without closer observation, that a female is depicted. Hermaphroditos was actually a male, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite, and is depicted here as a bisexed figure. The sculpture, and those like it, raise profound questions about the nature of arousal and desire.
The following sections are written by Astier Marie-Bénédicte of the Louvre, and are all worth a read:
The story of Hermaphroditos:
There is nothing improper in this work, but it still intrigues the viewer. Hermaphroditos, had rejected the advances of the nymph Salmacis. Unable to resign herself to this rejection, Salmacis persuaded Zeus to merge their two bodies forever, hence the strange union producing one bisexed being with male sexual organs and the voluptuous curves of a woman. Stretched out in erotic abandon on the mattress provided by Bernini, the figure sleeps. Yet Hermaphroditos has only fallen half asleep: the twisting pose of the body and the tension apparent down to the slightly raised left foot are indicative of a dream state.
An embodiment of Hellenistic taste:
[…] The subject reflects the taste for languid nudes, surprise effects, and theatricality, all of which were prized in the late Hellenistic period. The work is designed to be viewed in two stages. First impressions are of a gracious and sensuous body that leads one to think that the figure is a female nude in the Hellenistic tradition; this effect is heightened here by the sinuousness of the pose. The other side of the statue then brings a surprise, revealing the figure’s androgynous nature by means of the crudest realism. This effect of contrast and ambiguity, indeed this taste for the strange that plays with the viewer’s emotions, is the result of the theatricality of some Hellenistic art. This utopian combination of two sexes is sometimes interpreted as a half-playful, half-erotic creation, designed to illustrate Platonic and more general philosophical reflections on love.
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