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Statue of Narcissus, fragment

Roman art


This bust portrays Narcissus, the young man punished by the goddess Nemesis with falling madly in love with himself, as narrated by Ovid in the Metamorphoses. The young man is nude and gently tilts his head towards his raised left shoulder.

The sculpture is datable to the second century CE and is one of numerous known replicas of an original attributed to the sculptor Polykleitos, who was active in the fifth century BCE.


Object details

Inventory
XXIII
Location
Date
II secolo d.C.
Classification
Medium
white marble
Dimensions
altezza cm 77; altezza dell’antico cm 37
Provenance

Borghese Collection, cited for the first time by Nibby in the Portico (1832, p. 25). Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, C., p. 41, no. 3. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 19th century - Marble restorations on the chest
  • 1990–91 - I.C.R.
  • 2008 - Consorzio Capitolino di Elisabetta Zatti ed Elisabetta Caracciolo
  • 2022 - Nobili - Fabrica - Antonelli (associated firms)

Commentary

I am he. I sense it and I am not deceived by my own image.

I am burning with love for myself. I move and bear the flames.

What shall I do? Surely not court and be courted? Why court then?

What I want I have. My riches make me poor.

O I wish I could leave my own body!

(Ovid, Metamorphoses, 3:463–467)

In 1832, Nibby reported this sculpture in the Portico, where it was set on a granite column as an ‘unidentified half figure’ (p. 25). Venturi, 1893, instead labelled it a ‘nude Ephebus’ (p. 11).

The fragmentary bust portrays a nude young man with his head tilted towards his raised left shoulder. He has youthful features, with large, elongated eyes and relaxed eyelids. His hair is arranged in short wavy locks that frame his forehead.

The pose of languid abandon is what led to the identification of the figure as Narcissus, the young man punished by the goddess Nemesis with falling in love with his own image reflected in a fountain, as narrated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (3:413–467).

The statue type, more than forty versions of which survive, can be traced to an original attributed to the sculptor Polykleitos, who was active in the fifth century BCE.

As observed by Lauter (1966 pp. 109–110), the sculpture dates to the second century CE.

Giulia Ciccarello




Bibliography
  • A. Nibby, Monumenti scelti della Villa Borghese, Roma 1832, p. 25, n. 13.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 11.
  • A. Furtwaengler, Meisterwerke der griechischen Plastik: Kunstgeschichtliche Untersuchungen, Leipzig 1893, p. 467, nota 4.
  • Photographische Einzelaufnahmen antiker Sculpturen, X, 1 Munchen 1926, p. 2, n. 2709 (G. Lippold).
  • K. Blümel, Katalog der Sammlungen antiker Skulpturen, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 1931, pp. 42-44, n. 157.
  • R. Bianchi Bandinelli, Policleto, in “Quaderni per lo studio dell’Archeologia”, I, Firenze 1938 p. 21, tav. XV, 84.
  • G. Lippold, Die Griechische Plastik, in “Handbuch der Archäologie“, VI. III. 1, Munich 1950, p. 165, nota 8.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 7, n. 9.
  • H. Lauter, Zur Chronologie römischer Kopien nach Originalen des v. Jahrh, Bonn 1966, pp. 109-110, 170, note 485-486.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 8, fig. 3.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 100.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 94, n. 52.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008279, P. Moreno 1976; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.