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Work Othryades the Spartan Dying

Department of Sculptures: Northern Europe

Othryades the Spartan, Dying

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

Northern Europe

Montalbetti Valérie

Othryades was a Spartan hero. The sole survivor of a battle, he killed himself so as not to outlive his companions. Just before he died, he engraved his victory on his shield. The lively modeling of the clay expresses the tension of his body in this final surge of pride. The statue is a rough model for the plaster that Sergel, a Swedish sculptor who had made his name in Rome, presented to obtain admission to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris in January 1779.

A Spartan hero

Othryades is a Spartan hero, the only survivor of a battle between three hundred Spartans and as many Argives to gain control of the city of Thyreatis. He was the victor, but killed himself so as not to outlive his companions. The episode is taken from an account by Herodotus, the great Greek historian of the 5th century BC. The statue depicts the dying Othryades. In a final effort, he used his broken sword to scratch "I won!" on his shield, as a message to Zeus, the guardian of trophies. This fact is not recorded by the historian; it may come from later confusion with the story of Leonidas, another Spartan hero, who wrote his proud motto on his shield before dying for the honor of his homeland.

Unbridled energy

Sergel, trained in Sweden by a French sculptor, lived and worked in Rome from 1767 to 1778, where he discovered classical art and the Renaissance masters. Although he was deeply influenced by these models, his work showed new tension. Othryades' athletic body refers to the classical heroic tradition. The suffering face thrust backwards is inspired by the classical statue Alexander Dying (Florence, Uffizi). For the overall arrangement, Sergel was inspired by the pose of Heliodorus in Raphael's Vatican fresco, Heliodorus Driven Out of the Temple. But his warrior radiates unbridled energy, well rendered by his spirited modeling. The knobby surface shows muscular tension. Anatomical disproportions make the figure even more expressive. The huge hand clawing the ground and the deformed, jutting left shoulder express the dying man's supreme effort to raise his body. The fist engraving his victory is outsized. A few patches of pure vermilion on the pinkish beige of the terra-cotta suggest the hero's blood.

A Swede in Paris

The statuette is a rough model for a plaster statue (now lost) that Sergel presented for admission to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris in January 1779. He had built up such a reputation in Rome that Sweden's King Gustav III summoned him home. On the way back to Sweden, he stayed almost a year in Paris. Some of his works, executed in Rome for prestigious French patrons, such as Madame du Barry (the mistress of Louis XV) or the Baron de Breteuil, had already preceded him. The proud, noble character of Othryades corresponds quite well to Sergel's own temperament; the Swedish artist thought that he deserved to be elected to the Academy. Although there is another, larger, more finished terra-cotta statuette in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, there is no known marble version of this work.


Sous la dir. de Draper James D., Olausson Magnus et Scherf Guilhem, L'Esprit créateur de Pigalle à Canova. Terres cuites européennes 1740-1840, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2003, n 17, p. 61-64.
Sous la dir. de Frédéric Dassas, L'Invention du sentiment. Aux sources du romantisme, Paris, Musée de la musique, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2002, n 19 (notice de Dominique de Font-Réaulx).
La Révolution française et l'Europe 1789-1799, Grand Palais, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1989, n 396.
La Révolution française à l'école de la Vertu antique, 1775-1796, Montauban, Musée Ingres, 1989, n 36.
Bulletin des musées, 1er octobre 1923, p. 247.

Technical description

  • Johan Tobias SERGEL (Stockholm, 1740 - Stockholm, 1814)

    Othryades the Spartan, Dying

    C. 1779

  • Terracotta

    H. 0.20 m; W. 0.36 m; D. 0.25 m

  • Acquired in 1923 , 1923

    R.F. 1786

  • Sculptures

    Denon wing
    Ground floor
    Thorvaldsen gallery
    Room 400

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Additional information about the work

Esquisse (a rough model for a plaster, now lost, that Sergel presented to obtain admission to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris in January 1779)