Sleeping Eros

January 29–June 23, 2013

The Museum's Sleeping Eros


The Museum's Sleeping Eros is a particularly fine and characteristic example of how a bronze statue was made in antiquity. The sculpture was hollow-cast by means of a combination of the direct and the indirect lost-wax processes. As it is preserved today, the statue was created in seven sections that were joined together. Each cast section was of a similar size, providing an indication of the amount of metal that was convenient for the ancient foundry to melt and pour into the mold at one time. Analysis of the alloy of each cast section shows that all the parts are similar unleaded tin bronzes except the drapery between the legs, which is a tin bronze with a high percentage of added lead (ca. 18–19%). Small fragments of clay core were discovered adhering to the body interior where chaplet holes that once held metal rods to secure the core are also visible in several different cast sections. A plug in the proper left big toe is one place where the clay core was most likely introduced. The castings have very few imperfections, though occasional hammered rectangular patches are visible. Additional cold working was done as part of the finishing process.

Original or Copy

Compared to all other existing replicas of this type, the Museum’s Sleeping Eros is in a class of its own. Its superior modeling and craftsmanship are the strongest arguments for its identification as an original work by a major Hellenistic sculptor. It underwent a substantial repair at a much later date and was copied, as is clear from some forty existing replicas of the type. While most of the interior of the statue adheres closely to the form of its exterior (indicative of the indirect

lost-wax process), an X-radiograph of the head shows that the fine curls of hair are solid. They would have been worked in wax and then attached to the figure and are individualized work unique to this sculpture.


When the statue was first published, in 1943, it was considered to be an original Hellenistic sculpture or a close replica dating between 250 and 150 B.C. In the last seventy years many scholars have tended to agree with the original assessment, though not the precise dating. Others have suggested that it is a fine Roman copy of one of the most popular sculptures ever made in Roman Imperial times known from hundreds of copies, variants, and adaptations. There are, however, relatively few securely dated Hellenistic sculptures and Hellenistic sculptors borrowed freely from the styles of other periods. The precise dating of most Hellenistic sculptures is therefore difficult unless the work is tied to a particular historical event. The technical analysis presented here supports the identification of the Metropolitan’s statue as a Hellenistic work, and stylistic analysis allows only a broad date to the third or second century B.C.

An Ancient Restoration

The drapery between the legs was restored in antiquity. Not only is the alloy dramatically different, but the section also appears to have been cast by a slightly different method. Very fine globules of metal on the interior of the drapery between the legs indicate that the drapery’s core was in a liquid state when it was poured into the mold and was most likely made of plaster not clay. Given that the head, body, and other parts of the figure are regular tin bronzes (typical of Hellenistic sculpture from the eastern Mediterranean region) while the drapery contains high quantities of lead (more characteristic of Imperial Roman bronze sculpture), the statue may have been damaged in antiquity and repaired at a later date, possibly during the Early Imperial period. Remarkably, the complex drapery between the legs is of the same type, though with finer detail, as in the drapery of an Antonine marble copy in the Capitoline Museum, Rome. Versions of the same drapery are known in other Roman marble copies of the first and second centuries A.D.

Reconstructing the Missing Parts of Sleeping Eros

Replicas help us to understand the parts that are now missing. A small bow originally rested against the rock, where it dropped from Eros' open hand, and an open quiver lay by his head. Such details added to the tender naturalistic impression of the god momentarily napping outside in the midst of his labors. The head would have rested on the left arm cushioned by a bundle of drapery that served as a pillow. Although the base is modern, the finished cast edge evident on much of the underside of the statue and a groove cut into the bottom of the proper left wing suggest that the original base was of another material, likely stone.

Interpretation and Function

The choice of representing Eros asleep was an innovative and clever composition. Although the quiver around his neck and the presence of the bow allude to his ability to wound, Sleeping Eros is a depiction of the god of love at peace and of the pure innocence of love. Given its large scale and high quality, it was probably a religious dedication set up at a sanctuary, like the famous bronze Eros by Lysippos dedicated at Thespiae in Boeotia. It may have been a dedication to Eros; to his mother, Aphrodite; or to both of them. In later times, the statue may have remained in its original location or been moved as a valuable antique Greek sculpture and displayed in a private setting such as a Roman villa.