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Work Apollo of Piombino

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Apollo of Piombino

© 1999 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

Since its discovery in 1832 in a wreck off the coast of Piombino, this statue of Apollo has continued to divide the experts. A bronze ex-voto dedicated to Athena, it stands in the conventional pose of kouroi from the Archaic period, but is distinguished from these by the soft contours of the back and the sharp, inorganic treatment of the hair. A comparable work uncovered in 1977 in Pompeii corroborates the hypothesis of an archaistic pastiche, made for a Roman client in the first century BC.

The Apollo of Piombino

Discovered in 1832 in a wreck off the Tuscan coast, near Piombino, this statue of Apollo was long thought to be one of very few original Greek bronzes ever discovered.
From the late sixth century BC onwards, bronze became a popular medium for statuary, enabling artists to depict movement and detail more easily than in marble or stone, which were obviously far heavier. However, these ancient bronze statues have almost all been lost: they were melted down so that the precious alloy could be extracted.
The present work, cast using the lost-wax technique, has retained its copper inlay on the eyebrows, lips and nipples; the eyes were probably made of another material. The figure is an ex-voto dedicated to the goddess Athena (there is an inscription on the left foot inlaid with silver), and probably once held attributes: a bow in the left hand and a phiale in the right.

An Archaistic pastiche

The conventional, extremely hieratic pose of this statue, with the arms bent and left leg advanced, recalls the male nudes (kouroi) of the late sixth century BC. Certain anatomical anomalies, notably where the arms and legs meet the torso, are also reminiscent of Archaic kouroi. However, the soft contours of the back, the sharp, inorganic treatment of the hair, the shape of the letters on the inscription, and the unusual phenomenon of a divine effigy being dedicated to another divinity, all make it impossible to accept the Apollo of Piombino as an original sixth-century BC creation. The appearance and style of the work indicate that it is an archaistic pastiche, heavily tinged with the memory of kouroi from the Archaic period.

A work from the first century BC

The date of this Apollo has been fiercely disputed. A damaged lead tablet, found inside the statue when it was restored in 1842 (now lost) apparently bore the names of its creators - two sculptors from Tyre and Rhodes, active in the first century BC. Despite this evidence (which is itself contested) the work was identified for many years as an Archaic statue of the late fifth century BC, from a studio in southern Italy. However, in 1977 a statue of comparable size and style came to light in Pompeii, in the villa of C. Julius Polybius. This discovery corroborated the hypothesis, now broadly accepted, that the figure is a pastiche made during the late Hellenistic period, for a Roman client. Antique Greek sculpture was hugely popular with Roman collectors during this period, for display in gardens and villas. Artists of the time were quick to compensate for the shortage of Greek originals by producing pastiches such as the present statue.

Bibliography

Ridgway B. S., "The Bronze Apollo from Piombino in the Louvre", Antike Plastik, 7, 1967, pp. 43-75, fig. 1-11, pl. 24-34.Zagdoun M.-A., La sculpture archaïsante dans l'art hellénistique et dans l'art romain du Haut-Empire, Bibliothèque des Ecoles Françaises d'Athènes et de Rome, 269, 1989, pp. 147-148, p. 213, p. 247, n 347.

Technical description

  • Apollo of Piombino

    First century BC

    Discovered in the sea off the coast of Piombino, Italy, in 1832.

    Italy (?)

  • Bronze, copper and silver, hollow casting, inlay, engraving.

    H. 115 cm

  • Purchased 1834.

    Br 2

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 32, temporarily closed to the public, works n

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