Gallery Text

As Greek sculptors sought to perfect the youthful male body, they explored systems of proportion and balanced composition. In the mid-fifth century BCE, the sculptor Polykleitos addressed these subjects in a treatise entitled Canon. His statue of a spear carrier in the contrapposto stance of opposing balances apparently exemplified the Canon’s principles. The statue of a boy here stands in the Polykleitan tradition but combines the contrapposto with a leaning pose. The boy’s weight is on his proper right leg; his raised right hip and lowered right shoulder give the body a curve. The weight-bearing leg was counterbalanced by a relaxed arm, while the arm above the relaxed leg was propped on a pillar, bearing weight. Numerous bronze images of victorious athletes once stood at Olympia and in other Greek sanctuaries; this statue may replicate one by a successor of Polykleitos, or it may represent a classicizing Roman statue type, perhaps depicting a beautiful mythological youth, such as Adonis, Hyacinth, or Narcissus.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Young Athlete in Repose
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Statue of a Young Athlete in Repose, copy after a Greek original
Work Type
statue, sculpture
2nd century
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period, Middle
Persistent Link
Level 3, Room 3200, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Classical Sculpture
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Parian marble
H. 86.5 x W. 36 x D. 16 cm (34 1/16 x 14 3/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
weight: 123.3784 kg (272 lbs.)
S. Pozzi collection, Paris. Ludwig Pollak collection, Rome. Edward W. Forbes, Cambridge, MA, (by 1902), gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1902.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Edward W. Forbes
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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This athlete is possibly a copy of a Greek statue of the late 5th century BCE.

Published Catalogue Text: Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums , written 1990

Statue of a Young Athlete in Repose

This statue is a copy of the type thought to have been a funerary monument of a boy victor, in the tradition of Polykleitos. These figures have been known from Neo-Classic times onward as Narcissus, from the pose that appears on Graeco-Roman gems and pastes. Dorothea Arnold has dated this particular excellent and very Greek copy in the Hadrianic period (Arnold, 1969, p. 255, no. 16). The original statue, doubtless in bronze, could have been a very late work of Polykleitos, in the 430s BC, or a creation by a follower, or a statue by a sculptor of the first century BC who revived the master's style.

There are also those who point to the fact that one of the copies has wings in the hair, indicating identification as Hermes or Hypnos. Because an idol of Aphrodite is occasionally part of the support and because copies, as well as representations on gems, show the attributes of a hunter, including the boar's head, Adonis has been suggested as the subject (Blanco, 1957, p. 84, under no. 124-E, pl. LXXXIV).

A Graeco-Roman marble copy with an ancient and belonging boar's head as part of the tree-trunk support (on top, below the youth's elbow) has long stood in the Italian Renaissance gardens of Isabella Stewart Gardner's country estate at Green Hill in Brookline, Massachusetts. In November 1986, the current owner of this portion of the gardens, Mr. William Binnie, presented this statue and other former Gardner marbles from around the property to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum at Fenway Court in Boston. This statue certainly came from Italy in the nineteenth century and was probably restored by Bartolommeo Cavaceppi in the eighteenth century. It confirms that other copies of the Polykleitan boy victor ("Narcissus") where the antiquity of the boar's head has been questioned, as the copy at Holkham Hall in Norfolk, England (Arnold, 1969, p. 258, no. 35; Waywell, 1978, p. 8, no. 20; Vermeule, C., von Bothmer, D., 1959, pp. 153-154), were clearly based on ancient sculptural models, as well as on Graeco-Roman gems. Many have called these versions of the youth Meleager, but (aside from the connections with Aphrodite mentioned above) the slender figure seems better suited to Adonis, especially when the statue is compared with the copies of the Meleager of Skopas.

Cornelius Vermeule and Amy Brauer

Publication History

Eugenie Strong, Burlington Fine Arts Club Exhibition of Ancient Art, exh. cat. (London, England, 1903), p. 14, no. 13, pl. 13

Adolf Furtwängler, Antiken in den Museen von Amerika, vol. 3, Akademie der Wissenschaft (Munich, Germany, 1905), p. 280

Salomon Reinach, Répertoire de la statuaire grecque et romaine, Editions Ernst Leroux (Paris, 1908 - 1930), Vol. 4, p. 56, no. 2.

George H. Chase, Greek and Roman Sculpture in American Collections, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1924), pp. 63f., fig. 68

Hubert Phililppart, Collections d'antiquites classiques aux Etats-Unis, Revue de l'Université de Bruxelles, Revue de l'Universite de Bruxelles, Supplement (Brussels, Belgium, 1928), Vol.33 (4), p.3, p. 41

George M. A. Hanfmann, Greek Art and Life, An Exhibition Catalogue, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1950), no. 182.

Dorothea Arnold, "Die Polykletnachfolge", Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archaologischen Instituts, Walter de Gruyter and Co. (Berlin, Germany, 1969), Erganzungsheft 25, pp. 54-60, 82, 83-84, 255, no. 16 in list

Cornelius C. Vermeule III, Polykleitos, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, MA, 1969), no. 15

Edward Waldo Forbes, Yankee Visionary, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1971), The Checklist, p. 150

George M. A. Hanfmann and David Gordon Mitten, "The Art of Classical Antiquity", Apollo (May 1978), vol. 107, no. 195, pp. 362-369, p. 364, note 10

Cornelius C. Vermeule III, Greek and Roman Sculpture in America, University of California Press (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, 1981), p. 59, no. 32

Margarete Merkel Guldan, Die Tagebücher von Ludwig Pollak, Kennerschaft und Kunsthandel in Rom 1893-1934, Osterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Vienna, 1988), pp. 130-131, n. 43, p. 186, nn. 273-274, fig. 15

Cornelius C. Vermeule III and Amy Brauer, Stone Sculptures: The Greek, Roman and Etruscan Collections of the Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 35, no. 19

[Reproduction Only], Persephone, Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring 2011, p. 13.

Exhibition History

Greek Art and Life: From the Collections of the Fogg Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Private Lenders, Fogg Art Museum, 03/07/1950 - 04/15/1950

32Q: 3200 West Arcade, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at