'Sex to sweet sex with lips and limbs is wed' are the words with which Swinburne enshrined the iconic Sleeping Hermaphrodite
in his poetry. Discovered in Rome before 1620, the ancient Roman marble - after a presumed Hellenistic bronze - was famously restored by Gianlorenzo Bernini, who added the quilted mattress upon which the sleeping figure rests. The Hermaphrodite
was installed in the Villa Borghese as part of Cardinal Scipione Borghe's collection by 1638 and soon rose to fame as one of the most celebrated marbles in Rome. Its subject is Hermaphroditos, the son of Aphrodite and Hermes, whose form was merged with that of a water nymph, resulting in his androgynous status, which is laid bare in the statue. Viewers in the 17th and 18th centuries were inevitably compelled by the titillating compositon, with reactions ranging from distaste and shame to admiration and amusement. Lady Townshend quipped that the model represented 'the only happy couple she ever saw' (Haskell and Penny, op. cit.
, p. 235). The statue's fame resulted in the commissioning of various copies, of which some - unlike the present marble - omit the vital addition of the penis. Though frequently copied in bronze, the present reduction in marble is comparatively rare and faithfully reproduces the Borghese model. Purchased by Napoleon in 1807, the Borghese Hermaphrodite
is now among the main attractions of ancient statuary at the musée du Louvre, eclipsing in fame a number of other Roman versions of the subject.
F. Haskell and N. Penny, Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500-1900, London, 1981, pp. 234-235