Sleeping Eros

January 29–June 23, 2013

Sleeping Eros from Roman Imperial Times to the Renaissance

To judge from the hundreds of replicas, the sleeping Eros and its many adaptations and variations—as sleeping Cupids and even Somnus, the Roman personification of sleep—were especially popular during the Roman Imperial period. Particularly notable are the diverse contexts in which these sculptures were displayed. As in the Hellenistic period, statues of sleeping Eros continued to be offered as dedications at sanctuaries, but they also decorated Roman public baths, fountains, and private villas. The type was well suited for funerary use, and sleeping Eros/Cupid sculptures became popular tomb monuments, especially those made for children. The image was adapted for a wide variety of uses, from its appearance in relief on sarcophagi, marble urns, and altars to mosaics, wall paintings, gold jewelry, terracotta lamps, and an array of other objects.

During the Italian Renaissance the recovery of ancient sculptures, such as the Laocoön, found in the Roman emperor Nero's Golden House in the early sixteenth century, inspired artists such as Michelangelo to adapt classical styles to their own work. The sleeping Eros was among the earliest types rediscovered, and it is known that Michelangelo, early in his career, made one that he passed off as an ancient sculpture. Indeed, the sleeping Eros was the subject of numerous figural studies by Renaissance and Baroque artists who were looking to the classical tradition for inspiration. These works were sometimes close likenesses or less literal interpretations.

Back to Sleeping Eros