Kallos Gallery

A Roman marble figure of the youth Narcissus

The marble figure depicts Narcissus, the youth who was so beautiful that he fell in love with his own reflection.

Roman Imperial, Hadrianic Period, circa AD 117-138

60cm high, including restorations

A Roman marble figure of the youth Narcissus

Roman Imperial, Hadrianic Period, circa AD 117-138

60cm high, including restorations

 

The youth is depicted nude with finely-hewn musculature, standing in relaxed contrapposto with his arms raised and lightly resting on top of his head. His head is slightly down-turned and he is gazing off to his left. There are 18th-19th Century restorations, including the legs, base and tree-trunk.

This elegant and finely-carved figure perfectly encapsulates the mythical beauty of Narcissus, the son of the river-god Kephisos and the nymph Leiriope. The seer Teiresias foretold a long life for Narcissus but only if he never saw his own face. Ovid in his Metamorphoses (III, 339-510) recounts how many young girls and youths fell in love with Narcissus but were rejected, including Echo. One disappointed suitor asked Nemesis the goddess of vengeance to punish Narcissus, which she did by having him fall irrevocably in love with his own reflection.

 

PUBLISHED

E.Strong, Catalogue of the Greek and Roman Antiquities in the Possession of the Right Honourable Lord Melchett, P.C., D.Sc., F.R.S., Oxford, 1928, p. 16, no. 10, pl. X

Arndt – W. Amelung (Hrsg.), Photographische Einzelaufnahmen Antiker Sculpturen, München 1893- 1947, Cat. no. 4926

C.C.Vermeule, D. v.Bothmer, AJA 60, ‘Notes on a New Edition of Michaelis: Ancient Marbles in Great Britain,’ 1956, pp. 337-8

Rafn, ‘Narkissos’ in LIMC VI, p.707, no. 43.

Arachne, no. 51501

 

LITERATURE

The sculptural type, thought to be based on an early Hellenistic original of post-Praxitelean and post-Lysippan workmanship, is known from Roman copies, including an example in the Musee du Louvre, Paris, (inv. no. MA435): Rafn, op.cit. no. 21. There is also a strigillated sarcophagus in the Galleria Lapidaria, Vatican Museum (inv. no. 169), with two very closely-related images of Narcissus: Rafn, op.cit. no. 37. Narcissus is often depicted accompanied by a small figure of Eros and it is likely that a similar figure may have originally been positioned on the shoulder of the Melchett Narcissus.

 

The surviving copies of this type are Hadrianic or Antonine in date. This representation of Narcissus can be seen to have informed contemporary depictions of Antinous, the lover of the emperor Hadrian who drowned in the Nile. In establishing the cult of Antinous, Hadrian used existing symbols and imagery, and Narcissus, with his young and beautiful serene face, flowing locks and watery grave, is a haunting echo of the death of Antinous.

PROVENANCE

Sir Charles Robinson (1824-1913)

The Rt. Hon. Lord Melchett (1868-1930)

Sold Sotheby’s & Co., The Melchett Collection of Paintings, Drawings and Antiquities, 23-24 May 1951, lot 43 Christopher Norris, 1951-87

Connecticut private collection, 1988-2004

American private collection, 2004-2015

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