Attributed to Peter Paul Rubens Flemish

Not on view

This drawing is probably a study after the ancient Sleeping Hermaphroditus sculpture now in the Louvre, a work that was sketched by many artists, including Jacques Louis David [see 1975.1.605 in the Met’s collection], from the seventeenth century on. The view captured here reveals only Hermaphroditus’s feminine features, namely the hairstyle and the breast, obscuring the phallus that would be visible on the other side of the sculpture.

The artist took some liberties with his sculptural model in this drawing which, when viewed vertically, seems to depict a figure dancing. In the sculpture, Hermaphroditus is clearly sleeping, as shown by his closed eyes and drooping head resting on his folded arms; in the drawing, by contrast, the figure seems not only awake, but alert and active, as demonstrated by his open eye and slightly tensed musculature, modelled in short red chalk lines and white gouache highlights. Due to the awkward foreshortening of his left arm and the lack of other spatial references in the drawing, he appears to be raising his arm, not resting it, as if he were struggling against the tentacle-like fabric that envelops his body.

The drapery, rendered in vigorous and sinuous lines moving from the top of the page to the bottom, evokes flowing water, perhaps a reference to the water in which Hermaphroditus’s body was fused with that of the nymph Salmacis, according to ancient myth. Although the drawing is no longer attributable to Rubens, the artist clearly shared Rubens’s view that drawings after ancient sculpture must be enlivened, carrying no trace of the lifelessness of their models. This vivacity is heightened by the use of red chalk, which evokes a certain fleshiness.

Isabella Gold, 03/23/2023

Hermaphrodite, Attributed to Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, Siegen 1577–1640 Antwerp), Red chalk heightened with white

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