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Leda & the Swan
Leda & the Swan - Sculpture Style
Ref : 111804
Period :
17th century
Provenance :
Medium :
Dimensions :
l. 28.74 inch X H. 23.23 inch X P. 2.76 inch
Sculpture  - Leda & the Swan
Desmet Galerie

Classical Sculpture

+32 (0)486 02 16 09
Leda & the Swan

Leda & the Swan

White Marble
French, Early 17th Century
School of Fontainebleau

H 43 x W 57 x D 5 cm (marble only)
H 59 x W 73 cm (Frame)
H 17 x W 22 1/2 x D 2 inch
H 23 1/5 x W 28 3/4 inch (frame)

According to classical Greek mythology, Leda was the daughter of Thestios, king of Pleuros. She was such a beauty that she attracted the attention of Zeus, who seduced her in the form of a magnificent swan. Coming by the river Eurotas, he lay down next to her and impregnated her. On the same day, she also slept with her husband. As a result of these two unions, Leda laid two eggs producing four offspring, the twins Castor and Pollux and Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra. The story was referenced by famous Roman writers such as Homer, Virgil and Ovid, in versions that vary in their details, notably the bloodline of the children.
Since Antiquity the myth of Leda has frequently been represented in works of art. The earliest known representation is a Greek statue made ca. 400 BCE, of which a Roman copy is conserved in the Capitoline Museums in Rome (Fig.1.). Another early example is a Roman marble relief dating from the 1st century (Fig. 2). Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo (1474-1564) revived the theme, which became especially popular in the early 16th century, because it was considered more acceptable to depict a woman in the act of copulation with a swan, than with a man.

The figure of Leda in the present relief recalls the work of several artists belonging to the 17th century School of Fontainebleau. This 'school' began at the behest of the French king François I who was undertaking an extensive decorative program for his Château de Fontainebleau, built within a former royal hunting park. In 1531, the Florentine artist Rosso Fiorentino (1495-1540) was invited to France by the King and soon began the massive decorative program of the interior of the palace. It was at that exact time that France was introduced to the Italian Mannerist style. In the following years, the artist was joined by the painter and sculptor Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570) and much later by the fresco painter Niccolò dell'Abbate (1512-1571). The decoration was infused with allegorical and mythological iconography in elongated and undulating forms.

The Fontainebleau ideal of female beauty was pre-eminently Mannerist: women would be depicted with small heads, elongated limbs and bodies with small high breasts. Paradoxically, women’s figures would often be based on male models, so their body types can be sturdy at the same time too. Our relief shows the same features; Leda has a short and strong body; however, she has a small head on a long neck. Only a few sculptures from this period have survived, making it challenging to ascribe this relief to a particular artist. However, it is evident that this elegant relief incorporates all of the stylistic and iconographical characteristics of the Fontainebleau style.

Fontainebleau sculptors, both French and Italian, would use Italian prints and paintings as a source of inspiration, Michelangelo’s tempera painting Leda and the Swan, for example, was at Fontainebleau in 1536. Our relief’s design seems to be based on a print by Marco Dente da Ravenna (1493-1527), who was a prominent engraver within the circle of printmakers around Marcantonio Raimondi (1480-1534), a key figure in the rise of the reproductive print in 16th century Europe. Dente’s body of work consists largely of prints copying well-known and popular paintings; especially those of the Renaissance master Raphael (1483-1520). A print in the collection of the Royal Academy (fig. 4) confirms that Dente’s Leda and the Swan was most likely made after a drawing by Raphael. Our relief is therefore indirectly based on a drawing by Raphael, either through the engraving by Dente or another print after the same drawing.

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