Cardinal Scipione Borghese loved this Hermaphrodite so much that he devoted a room for her/him in Villa Borghese, and called it the ‘Room of the Hermaphrodite’.
What you see in the picture is the ‘Sleeping Hermaphroditus’, a second century AD Roman copy of the Greek original of the second century BC. In 1608, it was dug out from the grounds of Santa Maria della Vittoria, a Roman Catholic Church in Rome, Italy, dedicated to Virgin Mary.
In exchange of the sculpture of Hermaphroditus, Cardinal Borghese paid for the façade of the church and also granted the services of his architect. So, it became a part of the Borghese Collection, and hence it is popularly known as the Borghese Hermaphroditus.
It was restored in 1619 by David Larique for Cardinal Borghese, who, in 1620 paid the Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini 60 scudi for making the buttoned mattress on which the Hermaphroditus is sleeping. The specially designed mattress was made of marble brought from Carrara (by the Carrione River) world-famous for the high quality white and blue-grey marble quarried there.
According to Greek mythology sources, Hermaphroditus (also referred to as Hermaphroditos or Aphroditus) was born to Hermes (Mercury) and Aphrodite (Venus). Though he was as an extremely handsome boy, he was transformed by the water nymph Salmacis, who trapped him in sexual union, to an androgynous being.
The name Hermaphroditus is derived from the names of his parents Hermes and Aphrodite, and the word hermaphrodite is derived from his name. He was always portrayed in Greco-Roman art as a beautiful female figure with male genitals.
Apart from being the deity and symbol of bisexuality and effeminacy, Hermaphroditus, is also linked to the institution of marriage. Because of his sexual duality or combination of both masculine and feminine features in the same physique, he is considered as a symbol of the sacred union of men and women.
The sculpture features Hermaphroditus in life-size (length 1.69 m/ 5 ft 6.5 in, and width 89 cm/ 35 in), sculpted partly in the style of ancient portrayals of Venus (Aphrodite) and partly as the feminized portrayals of Dionysus/ Bacchus in Greek mythology. The Borghese Hermaphroditus type was repeatedly presented in art and sculpture of ancient Rome, and many more copies have been produced since the Renaissance in a variety of media.
From 1807 the Borghese Hermaphroditus has been in the Louvre (Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities) after it was purchased from the Borghese Collection.
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