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A Marble Group of Leda and the Swan

About the item

A Marble Group of Leda and the Swan, Roman Imperial, circa 2nd Century A.D., A Marble Group of Leda and the Swan\nThe queen of Sparta and mother of Helen of Troy, leaning back slightly against a broad rectangular support with her left foot on a low stool, her head turned up and to her left, holding Zeus in the guise of a swan in her lap, and raising her mantle with her left hand to protect the amorous god from the attacks of an eagle, and wearing a diaphanous chiton falling from her left shoulder and leaving her right breast bare, and himation draped across her back and over her left leg, the loose garment falling in graceful bunches and folds over the support behind, her face with parted lips and almond-shaped eyes, her centrally parted wavy hair brushed back and tied over the nape of her neck into a long plait undulating over the back.\nHeight 53 1/4 in. 135.2 cm.


Until its rediscovery last year the present statue of Leda and the Swan had remained entirely unknown to scholars. It appears in none of the major surveys of ancient marble sculpture in English country houses (Waagen's Treasures of Art in Great Britain, 1854-1857, Michaelis' Ancient Marbles in Great Britain, 1889, Vermeule's series of articles in the American Journal of Archaeology, 1955-1959, or the recent volume on North Yorkshire collections of ancient sculpture in the Monumenta Artis Romanae series, 2007). It is not included in Anita Rieche's extensive catalogue of all the Roman copies of Leda and the Swan known to her in the late 1970s (A. Rieche, "Die Kopien der Leda des Timotheos," Antike Plastik, vol. 17, 1978, pp. 21ff.), nor is it mentioned in her more recent update ("Zur >Leda der Timotheos. Nachtrag zu Antike Plastik 17, 1978, 21ff.," Antike Plastik, vol. 30, 2008, pp. 55-62, pls. 15-28).

Among the known Roman copies of Timotheos' Leda and the Swan, the present example, with the original head and right arm still attached and a good portion of the left arm and drapery remaining, stands as one of the best preserved. Only three other copies have unbroken heads, and their overall condition is not as good (Catalogue. Imperial Rome II. Statues. Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek, M. Moltesen, ed., Copenhagen, 2002, no. 80; P. C. Bol, ed., Forschungen zur Villa Albani. Katalog der antiken Bildwerke, vol.  III, 1992, no. 315, pls. 110-115; P. Moreno and A. Viacava, eds., I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese, 2003, p. 234, cat. no. 223; respectively Rieche, op. cit., cat. nos. 1, 2 and 3). Three additional copies have their original heads, but they were broken and reattached (Rieche, op. cit., 1978, cat. nos. 4, 6 and 5, the latter in the Capitoline Museum, Rome: LIMC VI, s.v. "Leda," p. 232, no. 6).

In addition to Leda and the Swan there were three other ancient marbles at Aske, two of which are still in situ. The first and most prized by its original owners was a statue of the Lysippean Eros stringing his bow, restored as Cupid lighting his torch; said to have been "found in an excavation near St. John the Lateran, in the very spot which historic evidence identifies as the site of Asinius Pollio's villa" (Richardson's guide to Richmond, p. 51), it disappeared from the gardens at Aske in the 1970s and its current whereabouts remain unknown. The second marble is an under-lifesize partially draped female figure leaning on a dolphin (h. 134 cm.), of a type commonly known in the 18th Century as "Galatea" (e.g. Clarac, Musée de sculpture, pl. 746) and in the current typology as the Aphrodite Pontia-Euploia (for another example close to Aske, at Newby Hall, see D. Boschung and H. Von Hesberg, Die antiken Skulpturen in Newby Hall sowie in anderen Sammlungen in Yorkshire, 2007, Cat. N4, pl. 10). The third and least assuming marble is the figure of a young togatus fitted with the head of a youthful wreathed divinity (h. 129 cm.).

Thomas Dundas, son of Sir Lawrence Dundas of Kerse, Stirling (Scotland), undertook his Grand Tour in 1762/1763, visiting Turin, Florence, and Venice, before stopping over in Rome by February/March 1763. There he stood for a splendid full-length portrait by Pompeo Batoni showing him before a background full of Classical highlights from the Vatican, no less than the Apollo Belvedere, the Laocoon, the Antinous Belvedere, and the Sleeping Ariadne. Dundas was also actively collecting in Rome, although mostly paintings and no ancient statuary at the time, since he also bought a Holy Family from Batoni and acquired a Sleeping Cupid by Guido Reni through the English dealer and agent Robert Strange. Having completed his Grand Tour and returned to England Thomas joined the Society of the Dilettanti in 1764 (see J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701-1800, New Haven and London, 1997, p. 321).

Thomas's son Lawrence went on his own Grand Tour in 1787-1788. He traveled to Turin, Genoa, and Bologna during the fall of 1787, resided in Naples, where he met William Hamilton, from January 1788 until early October 1788, and was later spotted in Rome in December of the same year by William Danby, also from North Yorkshire (Ingamells, op. cit. p. 320). This is when Lawrence must have met Colin Morison, a painter, archaeologist, learned guide to the city, and important antiquities dealer. Originally from Aberdeen, his Scottish origins must have appealed to the young Dundas. It is possible that his father Thomas Dundas himself had already met with the art dealer on his own visit to Rome 25 years earlier, since "his [Morison's] museo was well stocked by 1765" (Bignamini and Hornsby, op. cit., p. 302) and he was already dealing then on a grand scale. As his father had done before him, Thomas joined the Society of the Dilettanti shortly after his return from Italy, in 1790.

Lawrence Dundas bought the four ancient statues listed above from or through Morison, assuredly upon consulting his father who was to disburse the funds. The purchase is confirmed by the fact that on April 27th, 1789 Morison applied to the state authorities for export licenses for all four marbles destined for Aske: 'Quattro figure meno del vero antiche con molto rappezzo; Una delle quali rappresenta un Amore, che scocca il dardo simile al Capitolino, altra di Leda con il cigno inferiore alle cognite di Albani, Adobrandini [sic], e Campidoglio, altra d'un giovinetto togato, altra finalmente d'une Galatea, valutabili tute scudi Mille ("Four under-lifesize ancient sculptures with much restoration; one of them represents Eros shooting an arrow, similar to the one in the Capitoline; another Leda and the Swan, which is inferior to the Albani, Aldobrandini, and Campidoglio examples; another of a youth wearing a toga, and finally another of Galatea; worth as a group a thousand scudi") (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. Lat. 10308 [Atti del Commissario delle Antichità, 1788-1793], fol. 45r-v: see Bignamini and Hornsby, op. cit., p. 303 and note 22).

We are very grateful to Jonathan Yarker and Clare Hornsby for enabling us to identify the 18th-century archival documentation for the present lot.




Height 53 1/4 in. 135.2 cm.


Robinson's Guide to Richmond, Richmond, 1833, p. 51

I. Bignamini and C. Hornsby, Digging and Dealing in Eighteenth-century Rome, 2010, vol. I, p. 303


the art dealer and antiquarian Colin Morison (1732-1810), Rome, 1780s

Sir Thomas Dundas, Bt. (1741-1820), later 1st Lord Dundas of Aske (1794), Aske Hall, North Yorkshire, acquired in Rome from the above through his son Lawrence in 1788/1789

Sir Lawrence Dundas, Bt. (1766-1839), 2nd Lord Dundas of Aske and 1st Earl of Zetland, Aske Hall

by descent to the present owner, Aske Hall

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.