Several clues allow us to identify this young male figure as Apollo, the Greek god of the arts, song, music, male beauty and light: the sophisticated hairstyle and nudity, the position of the arms, the incurved tool visible in his right hand and the marks left by a large object (now lost) on his left side.
Click on the different parts of the statuette to learn more about them!
The thick locks distributed on either side of a central parting are bound up over the temples with a headband and rolled into a bun (crobylos). Two curled locks of hair escape from this refined arrangement and fall onto the shoulders on either side of the neck; other, finer, locks are spread across the forehead and at the nape of the neck.
The statuette was made using the complex lost-wax metal casting process with a negative mould. The head, arms, torso with the right supporting leg and left leg, at least, were cast separately and then soldered together. The two locks on either side of the neck, or parotides, were also solid cast separately and then soldered to the hair.
The now-empty eye sockets indicate that the eyes were created separately. They are frequently missing from statues due to the fragility of the installation – the eyes were inserted after casting and fixed in place with adhesive substances (bitumen) – and to the use of precious materials, which attracted ancient looters.
In ancient Rome, makers of eyes for statues (faber oculariarius) enjoyed a status similar to that of precious metalworkers. Judging from a few surviving examples, the eyeball (marble, ivory or alabaster) was set in a sheet of pure copper with its edges cut and curled into lashes. The iris and pupil, encircled with metal (copper or gold) or a glass ring, and the inner corner of the eyes were made of either coloured stone or glass paste.
An alloy of copper and tin, the bronze of this statue would have been similar in colour to pink gold when it left the workshop after its final polishing. Its current shade is due to the corrosion that occurred naturally over centuries it spent buried underground.
The statuette’s slight muscle definition and almost androgynous character place it within an artistic movement established during the second half of the 2nd century BC, in the late Hellenistic period. It can thus be compared to several terracotta figurines of Eros unearthed in the necropolis of Myrina (modern-day Turkey): they have the same full thighs, plumpness and surprisingly developed chest for male figures.
This particular style is also illustrated by two bronze lamp-holders (lychnouchoi) found, like the Eros Kitharoidos, at the site of the ancient shipwreck of Mahdia (Bardo Museum, Tunis). The first is an Eros, characterised by its wings, and the second, taken from the same prototype, a wingless being, a simple male figure or Hermaphrodite. Both exhibit a morphology similar to that of the Apollo, particularly as regards the female-like torso.
Plectrum and Kithara
His right hand holds the plectrum, a small tool used to strum the strings of a kithara. The heavy instrument rested against the statue’s torso and left thigh, and was held in position by a round fixing element (seen in relief).
The left hand supported the instrument’s frame. An Eros Kitharoidos at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, recovered from the ancient shipwreck of Mahdia off the coast of Tunisia, shows this type of kithara and how it would have been held.
Without totally excluding the possibility of a private religious context, the Apollo Kitharoidos was likely a decorative feature of the atrium, triclinium or garden of a Roman villa on the outskirts of Pompeii. ‘Apartment sculptures’, so-called due to their medium size, were typical of Hellenistic homes, notably on the island of Delos in Greece.
Whether original artworks or copies, the ornamental statues were for the pleasure of the home-owners and their guests.
The remains of lead under the left foot of the Apollo indicate that the figure was fixed on stone –perhaps an irregular quadrangular base to introduce the artwork into a landscaped environment – as opposed to a bronze plinth.