Who would not like to claim to be the owner of an original bronze statue made by Praxiteles?
Praxiteles of Athens, who lived in the 4th century BC, made a name for himself during his lifetime as he was the very first sculptor ever to create a nude woman and he made her life-size! To avoid a scandal, he labeled his lady as Aphrodite which was received gracefully by the people of Cnidos who had ordered a statue of this goddess although they had not expected her to be in the nude! (see: Was Alexander the Great aware of Cnidos?). Sadly, none of his original works have survived and all we have to go by are copies – yet what copies!
The most striking full-sized statue in marble is that of Hermes holding the infant Dionysus from the
and now exhibited
at the Archaeological
Museum of Olympia.
Among the other masterpieces, we know the Diadomenus and the Apollo-Antonius at
the Archaeological Museum of Tripoli (Libya), the Venus (2nd
century AD) and the Apollo Sauroktonos (1st century AD) at the
Louvre, the Venus(2nd century AD) at the Museo Capitolino in Rome,
the Roman Satyr at the Altes Museum in Berlin, the head of Venus at the Pergamon
Museum in Berlin, the torso
of Venus at the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels, the Bacchus or Satyr (2cd century AD) and the Tyche
(early 2nd century AD) also at the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels, the Apollo Lykeios from Epidaurus
at the Archaeological Museum of Athens and there must be many
more in the museums around the world. Temple
Yet all these statues are made of marble although the originals probably were created in precious bronze. Bronze, as we know, has been melted down time and again over the centuries, mostly for military purposes meaning that any bronze statue from antiquity is a very rare item.
Recently, the Cleveland Museum of Art has exhibited a statue of Apollo claiming that it is an original Greek bronze and made by the famous sculptor Praxiteles. You would expect this distinguished museum to base such a statement on solid grounds but it seems that it raised many questions instead.
The Apollo in question is also known as the Apollo the Python-Slayer or Apollo Sauroktonos (Lizard Slayer) that is being dated to about 350 BC. It is made of bronze with copper and stone inlay and stands
1.50 meters high. The statue is not complete as
it misses part of his right arm, the tree and his left arm and shoulder that
rested on it.
But luckily Apollo’s left hand has been recovered as well as a small reptile that looks like a lizard but is in fact a Python in reduced sized. It seems that it was made for the sanctuary of the Pythian Apollo in Delphi who according to the myth had to vanquish Python, the son of Mother Earth. It is thought that Apollo’s victory of the Python was translating Praxiteles’ idea of the triumph of order (kosmos) over disorder (chaos). Emperor Nero is probably responsible for taking the statue to
where Pliny the Elder described it as a bronze of the youthful Apollo
about to stab a lizard with an arrow. Rome
There are indeed several contradictory and conflicting stories that are circulating. One tells us how the mysterious Apollo was purchased in 2004 from Phoenix Ancient Art, an antiquity dealer for 5 million dollars. Originally it was recovered from an estate in
Eastern Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The legal heir to this estate remembered having seen the statue on several
occasions at the house of his great-uncle. This heir believed it was a 18th
or 19th century work not worth much money and he sold the broken
pieces. It was soon identified as ancient and appeared in 2003 at said art
gallery where the museum acquired it a year later.
France-Presse, in turn, reported in 2007 that Greek officials had discovered the bronze in the sea somewhere between
but no clear evidence sustains this statement. Although the Greek government
accepts that the statue comes from “somewhere in Italy ” they refused to cooperate
with the Louvre in their exhibition of the works of Praxiteles if they were to show this bronze Apollo. The Louvre
Although there are international laws to prevent the trading of illegal and looted antiquities, there is no law to put the exhibition of objects from uncertain and undocumented provenance on hold till a full research can confirm their authenticity and origin.
It may be wishful thinking to have a true bronze created by Praxiteles, it may be a commercial tool to attract visitor to the museum. Who knows, after all we may be very fortunate to have an original Praxiteles saved by the art market.