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by Archaeology Newsroom

Praxiteles’ Hermes. Greek original or Roman copy?

The statue of Hermes found in Olympia in 1877 is a most celebrated work of art, being the only surviving original piece made by Praxiteles, the famous fourth century BCsculptor.The Hermes had been considered as an original work of art at least from the time of its discovery until 1927, when the debate on the issue of its authenticity began. Karl Bliimel, a German archaeologist, became the fatal person in the case of Hermes, since he was the one who created the issue of its authenticity by publishing in 1927 a work on “The Technique of Ancient Greek Sculpture”. In this book, Blumel supported the argument that the statue of Hermes was not an original work of Praxiteles but a mere copy of the Roman period.His “heretic” argument was based on various technical characteristics of the statue. Oscar Antonsson claimed a few years later that the statue, although a original work of Praxiteles, displays various later sculptural modifications. He also argued that the statue is not representing Hermes, the messenger of gods but Pan, the god of pasture and wild life, who is carrying the child Dionysus. As was expected, Blumel reentered the debate in 1948 with a new theory about the statue. Hermes is indeed an original work by Praxiteles, not however of the famous fourth ceutury BC sculptor, but of another Praxiteles, an artist of the second half of the second century BC, (that is, of a Praxiteles of the Hellenistic period).

Thus, it is probable that the statue, known to us as Hermes of Praxiteles supplies us with a piece of rare as well as significant evidence from antiquity. It combines the original work of a great Greek artist as well as the modifications performed by some Roman sculptor a few centuries later.