Art History 101
October 24, 2014
Leda and the Swan The art piece I chosen was Leda and the Swan, from the Yale University Art Gallery. This statue is widely regarded as a Roman copy after a Greek original by the late Classical sculptor Timotheos and he created it in the 4th century BC, one of the rivals and contemporaries of Scopas of Paros, among the sculptors who worked for their own fame on the construction of the grave of Mausolus at Halicarnassus between 353 and 350 BC. He was apparently the leading sculptor at the temple of Asklepios at Epidaurus, ca. 380 BC. To him is attributed a sculpture of Leda and the Swan in which the queen Leda of Sparta protected a swan from an eagle, on the basis of which a Roman marble copy in the Capitoline Museums is said to be "after Timotheus". The theme must have been popular, judging by the more than two dozen Roman marble copies that survive. The most famous version has been that in the Capitoline Museums in Rome, purchased by Pope Clement XIV from the heirs of Cardinal Alessandro Albani. A highly restored version is in the Museo del Prado, and an incomplete one is in the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut since the art work doesn’t have Leda’s head.
The sculpture was made in marble, this material is a metamorphic rock made out of limestone. When limestone is subjected to tremendous pressure for a long time (like if limestone is buried under a lot of other rock or an ocean) it gets squashed into marble. Marble is more beautiful than limestone and tougher, and so people like to use it for buildings. But marble is also rarer, and more expensive. A lot of marble is white, but marble can come in all different colors. In ancient Greece and Rome like in the case of Leda and the Swan people used marble (especially white marble) to make this type of sculptures of statues, and they used colored marble in patterns to make hard floors that would last a long time. Different colors of marble came from different parts of the Roman empire, the purple came from Egypt, for instance and so this was also a way of showing off, of pointing out how powerful Rome was, that the Senate could bring stone from all these far away places that were ruled by Rome. Leda and the Swan has measurements of 108 x 54 x 55 cm (42 1/2 x 21 1/4 x 21 5/8 in.)
The queen of Sparta and mother of Helen of Troy, leaning back slightly against a wide rectangular support with her left foot on a low stool, seems like her head turned up and to her left even through in this sculpture at the Yale Art Museum she doesn’t have a head and wearing a delicate chiton falling from her left shoulder and leaving her right breast bare, and himation wrapped across her back and over her left leg, the loose dress falling in elegant bunches and folds over the support behind.
The subject of this slightly under life-size statue derives from Classical mythology. In the most popular version of the myth, Zeus falls in love with the mortal Leda and transforms himself into a swan, in which form he seduces and impregnates her. In this relatively tame sculptural rendering, Leda (now headless) is shown sitting on a rock, holding the swan (whose head and neck are also missing) against her right leg. The drapery cascading from her left shoulder would have extended along her raised left arm (now missing). The clinging, almost transparent quality of the drapery was a popular stylistic device in the late