Dirk Puehl‘s Today’s Memory
Gustav Hirschfeld’s discovery of Hermes statue
Originally shared by Dirk Puehl
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“The figures I have enumerated are of ivory and gold, but at a later date other images were dedicated in the Heraeum, including a marble Hermes carrying the baby Dionysus, a work of Praxiteles, and a bronze Aphrodite made by Cleon of Sicyon“ (Pausanias, “Description of Greece”)
Today, 136 years ago, the German archaeologist Gustav Hirschfeld discovered a statue of Hermes in the cellar of the Heraion of Olympia.
According to a passage in Pausanias’ “Description of Greece” (2nd century CE), Hirschfeld decided his find to be the described “Hermes of Praxiteles” or “Hermes and the Infant Dionysus” – a subsumption that was found to be highly controversial in the following decades. Why a statue of Hermes, who saved his infant half-brother Dionysos from Hera’s wrath and hid him in Boeotia, where his foster father Athamas was finally struck with a “Shining”-like madness by the jealous goddess, had been placed in Heraion, is unclear as well.
Praxiteles himself was probably the most renowned sculptor of Athens, living in the 4th century BCE but there are indications that the Hermes might actually be a later Roman copy or not even one of Praxiteles’ works at all. Nonetheless, “Hermes and the Infant Dionysus” has been described as a masterpiece of sculpture from the late classical period and is besides “Apollo Sauroktonos, the “lizard killer”, Louvre) and Aphrodite of Cnidus (survived only in Roman copies, Capitoline Museum in Rome et al), the epitome of the ideal of the image of the youthful gods of Greek art.
Hermes is obviously unfinished though. While his front is smooth marble, almost glowing from the caress of generations of temple attendants, as the British art historian John Boardman once mentioned – no wonder, since Hermes almost looks like a young Paul Newman – preserved by soft earth over 1.500 years, his back is rough and probably unfinished. His right arm, maybe holding a bunch of grapes once, teasing young Dionysus with it, is missing as well, nonetheless the sculpture is still in excellent condition, showing even the traces of cinnabar in its hair that probably was once painted red.
“Hermes and the Infant Dionysus” can be admired at the site of his recovery in the Archaeological Museum of Olympia in Greece.