Gender-bending statue tops London antiquities sale

A Roman bronze figure of Hermaphroditos.jpg

A rare 1st century bronze figure depicting Hermaphroditos headlines Bonhams’ Antiquities sale in London on 28 November.

Hermaphroditos was the beautiful son of Aphrodite and Hermes, with whom the water nymph Salmacis fell passionately in love.

The youth chose to reject her advances, however, so Salmacis pleaded with the gods to be united with him forever.

Gods being a jovial bunch, they decided to merge the pair, creating an androgynous being who was worshipped by both the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Rare vision

The figure for sale is of the rare Hermaphroditos kallipygos type which shows the god standing, clearly displaying male and female characteristics and gazing at a double mirror angled on the buttocks – kallipygos means ‘beautiful buttocks’ in English.

This is in contrast to the ‘Sleeping Hermaphrodite’ sculpture type, which seeks to surprise and mislead the viewer by appearing as one sex from the back, and another from the front. It is estimated at £25,000-35,000.

Bonhams’ head of antiquities Francesca Hickin said: ‘This is a rare and important bronze figure of Hermaphroditos, and features in scholarly literature on the Hermaphroditos kallipygos type of which very few examples are known. It is likely that the statue was displayed in a domestic setting, either in a garden or within a home.’

The statue comes to auction from a private UK collection, and was on loan to the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg in 1981.

An Attic black-figure amphora.jpg

Also on sale

Other items in the sale include: an Attic black-figure amphora from around 540BC depicting Herakles slaying the Nemean Lion (above), estimate £40,000-70,000. Also on offer are a Roman marble life-sized portrait head of a young man from around 50BC-AD37 (£30,000-50,000), and an Egyptian limestone relief with hieroglyphs from the Ptolemaic Period, circa 332-30BC (estimate £25,000-35,000).

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