Monday, July 24, 2023





 ( Location: Sully Wing, Floor 1, Room 348, Louvre Museum, Paris )


The mythological term “hermaphrodite” implies that a person is both fully male and fully female. This is a physiologic impossibility. According to ancient Greek mythology, a hermaphrodite is a female with both female and male reproductive organs. Hermaphrodites were celebrated and worshipped by the ancient Mediterraneans.


Hermaphroditus was a popular subject of paintings and statuary, even if modern audiences are less comfortable with the topic than the ancient Greeks and Romans were. The subject reflects the taste for languid nudes, surprise effects, and theatricality, all of which were prized in the late *Hellenistic period. The Romans and the Greeks sculpted this figure with tremendous care, which can be seen in the details.This work is a Roman copy that was inspired by a Greek original of the 2nd century BC. This best-known sleeping hermaphrodite, now at the Louvre Museum, Paris, was unearthed in Rome in 1608.


 When one walks along this sculpture in the Louvre museum, one is impressed by 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 on the soft cushion. The cushion or mattress is widely considered one of the softest-looking cushions ever cut from stone. The billowy mattress was an addition, added by the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini at the request of the work's then-owner, Cardinal Scipione Borghese. However, as one comes closer, one finds that the sculpted human being, although possessing qualities of a female (ornate hairstyle, chest, hips, facial features), has the genitals of a male. This effect of contrast, ambiguity and something strange, plays with the viewer’s emotions. It is the result of the theatricality of some Hellenistic art. In a way, crudest realism has been used in the sculpture to reveal the figure’s androgynous nature. The elements of the sculpture appear soft to the touch. This is complemented by the robe wrapped around her/him, which is 100% the same material but appears to be different.

According to Greek mythology, Hermaphroditos (this female with male genitals) was a child of Hermes and Aphrodite. Aphrodite is the goddess of erotic love who gave birth to a beautiful boy after she fell in love with Hermes. Hermaphroditos is also grouped with other “love-gods” called the Erotes. In the New York Times of June 24, 2016, Daniel Mcdermon writes this:-


"In imperial Rome, sculptures like this( filled the homes and gardens of wealthy people, said Carlos Picón, curator of Roman art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They were seen as light amusements, signifiers of good taste. And it is believed that there were hundreds of them because at least nine copies of the “Sleeping Hermaphrodite” have survived."


In Hindu mythology and art, there is a somewhat similar concept of Ardhanareeshvara. Ardhanareeshvara is a combination of three words “Ardha,” “Nari,” and “Ishwara” which means “half,” “woman,” and “lord,” respectively, which when combined means the lord whose half is a woman. It is believed that the God is Lord Shiva and the woman part is his consort Goddess Parvati or Shakti.In India, we find many sculptures and paintings depicting Ardhanareeshvara. Even some modern artists have painted Ardhanareeshvara. The Ardhanareeshvara represents a constructive and generative power. Ardhanareeshvara symbolizes male and female principles that cannot be separated. It conveys the unity of opposites in the universe. The male half stands for Purusha and the female half is Prakriti. From Kashmir in the North to Thanjavur in the South, from Rajasthan in the East to Bengal in the West, images of Ardhanareeshvara are found with their respective regional variations, the earliest examples date from the second century AD to the present times. earliest Ardhanareeshvara images are dated to the Kushan period, starting from the first century. The Puranas and various iconographic treatises write about the mythology and iconography of Ardhanareeshvara. While Ardhanareeshvara remains a popular iconographic form found in most Shiva temples throughout India, very few temples are dedicated to this deity.


( Avtar Mota )



*The Hellenistic Period is a part of the Ancient Period for the European and Near Asian space. The use of this period is justified by the extent of the Hellenic Culture in most of these areas, due to the Greek political presence especially in Asia after Alexander's conquests, but also to a new wave of Greek Colonisation In consequence, the Hellenistic Period is usually accepted to begin in 323 BCE with Alexander's death and ends in 31 BCE with the conquest of the last Hellenistic kingdom by Rome, the Lagid kingdom of Egypt. For the Asian part, we could lengthen it to 10 BCE, when the last Indo-Greek kingdom was conquered by Indo-Sakas.



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