Leda and the Swan
Roman, 2nd C. BCE
(note: this is one of those endless posts --
i.e. whenever a new Leda turns up,
I add it to the list)
Recently, I've been finding several versions
of Leda and Swan
So, I thought I'd gather them all together,
from my site and from the rest of the web,
to do a little comparison.
It's such a bizarre theme, isn't it ?
An impossible mating,
but it has drawn the attention of sculptors
for over 2,000 years
Beginning with the above scene
from Republican Rome,
which I think is the only one that
has the swan large enough
to actually mate with a woman,
as well as being the only one
that would suggest that the swan
is the aggressor,
which seems true to the original premise
that the bird is a powerful God in disguise.
(and this is, BTW, one great sculpture)
Roman, 1st Century
This must be a very small piece.
It looks like they're dancing, doesn't it ?
A beautiful piece,
but already Leda is at least
the swan's equal.
(and again, much as I like the sculpture of
the 20th Century,
this Roman guy was better than most of them)
But here's a Roman piece from the Prado
that is something of a disaster -
i.e. I think it was carved by technicians
who had no particular feeling for
what they were doing.
Leda raising her arm in triumph
"I have captured the swan" ?
(although the "swan" looks more like
some strange musical instrument)
And this variation (from the Getty Museum)
is hardly any better.
(though, at least the Swan's neck isn't broken)
I get the feeling
that ancient Roman statuary
was made for the kind of market
which today would be buying
to stand beside the driveway.
Coptic (300 - 641 AD)
This is one angry goose,
and this is more of a battle scene
than an erotic one.
Or.. even more than that,
it's a decorative frieze,
which, for me,
makes it the most delicious
Jumping ahead a thousand years,
the swan is a kinder, gentler creature,
and Leda looks like one of those
masculine women that Michelangelo (b. 1475) was making.
I love Ammanati,
but not especially this one
which feels like a homage to Michelangelo.
David Anguier, 1654
A very courtly dance,
Leda is fully clothed
to appear in the court
of the greatest prince of Christianity.
(the Sun King would have been 16 at that time)
It's all prim and proper,
but gently pinching that swan's phallic neck at the tip,
there's just a pleasant hint of naughtiness
Jean Thierry (1669-1739)
The swan appears to be making trouble again,
but Leda has everything under control
Jean Thierry, 1715
a lot of sound and fury,
but for what purpose ?
Perhaps that's how me might
define "the Baroque"
From the Scindia Museum, Gwalior (19th or 18th C. ??)
This is the earliest completely erotic
example I could find.
Were the Scandian princes attracted
to European women ?
What an enormous palace they must have had
to accomodate such an enormous,
and controversial piece.
Rudolph Tegners (1873-1950)
This one comes from Robert's website,
and seems to be a throwback to the
very earliest piece on this page.
(But why is that bird pecking her
on the top of the head ?)
This one looks like
they're posing for a photographer
at the high school prom.
(except, of course, nobody is wearing clothes)
Josef Thorak (1889-1952)German
Back to the frankly erotic,
Thorak was given an enormous
air-plane hanger by the Nazis
to use as a studio.
It resembles a painting
of the same theme
that apparently was one of Adolph's favorites.
Poul Lemser (1925-1980)Danish
Cute and charming,
appropriate for the glass case
in which fine porcelains are displayed.
(and this Leda is just a little underage
to be necking with that great bird,
Quinto Martelli (1908-1990)
Back to the frankly erotic,
as the swan's head and neck
and her toes are extended
as she reaches a climax.
P. Silvestre, American
This looks like an Egyptian-ized version
that has been covered by desert sands
for a few thousand years.
This one definitely belongs in a library.
PUTTEMANS, Auguste (1866-1927)Belgium
Another very strange entry,
it's almost as if Leda had just taken
the swan out of the oven
and is preparing him to the the
centerpiece of a banquet.
(all she needs is an apron)
Kai Nielsen, Danish, (1882-1925)
For whatever reason,
this theme seems to be the most popular
A very tender, loving moment
in the relationship
between these two species
(and this looks like another Leda
who may not have reached
the age of consent)
Fred Carasso (1899- )
Fred Carasso (Italian)
I like this style of medallion
that leaves most everything
to the imagination
Henri Puvrez (1893-1971) Belgian
Now it looks like the swan has been demoted
to become a house pet,
and Leda is giving him a good snuggle
(as she emerges from the bath)
Gleb Derujinsky (1888-1975)
A rather confusing piece,
it seems like it should be very small,
and function like a netsuke
Ercole Drei (1886-1973)
Back to the erotic,
this one seems to be best exemplify
the poem by Yeats
"How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?"
by the same sculptor.
It's more like Leda is dancing
than being ravished
Reuben Nakian (American, 1897-1986), American
Here's a sculpture who specialized in Ledas,
but it's anyone's guess
just what is happening here.
The swan seems to be strutting his stuff,
and Leda is acting appropriately impressed.
Nakian makes more sense to me
as a designer of ceramic plates
... or as a draftsman
R.J. Miller (b. 1922), American
And here's my father's version
(accompanied for this photo by two long-departed kittens
named Muff and Fluff)
Leda looks so solemn - maybe sad,
as if the swan that she's wearing about her neck
had been the yoke traditionally used to
restrain/punish prisoners in China
This seems to be more of an architectural ornament
than of an erotic narrative
Another sculptor who has specialized in Leda
is my favorite living Norwegian, Per Ung.
Here, the swan almost seems to be a burden
that she is destined to carry.
Another wrestling match,
an avian version of
"Jacob and the Angel"
Per Ung (b. 1933) Norway
There's something especially sexual
about Leda reaching down
between her own legs,
and this feature first appeared
way back in Roman times.
When the action is stretched out this way,
it feels like something cosmic is being presented,
i.e. it's not just a strange girl and her bird.
Karen Salicath, Danish
And the myth continues,
up to the work of this young woman
who was born in 1968
maybe too cute ?
Isn't this a girl with her pet ?
(but who can blame
the only female sculptor on this page
from being less than enthusiastic
about the theme of ravishment ?)
where the swan
is more like a coat of feathers
And now Robert
has sent me some more !
(though he hasn't always
recorded the name of the artist)
(Robert doesn't like to pass judgment,
but I can't help it)
Ouch again !
(but I like the reversal
of roles -- which is ridiculous
but no less so than the original concept)
This has to be one of those Art Deco Germans,
just as perverted as they can be
(but as it turns out, I'm wrong...
it's Jean Jacques Pradier, Swiss,
and the piece is dated 1851)
Actually -- I kind of like this sculpture,
and it's pedastal,
but what the hell is going on here ?
Just about as bad
as bad 19C. commercial sculpture can be
This one sure feels East European to me,
I have difficulty imagining the other views,
but this view is fine with me.
(actually -- it's Enzo Plazzotta,
the Italian who worked in Britain)
Robert Cockle Lucas (1800- 1883)
So here we have a copy, a bad copy
of the Roman piece shown at the very top,
which I'll show again as follows:
Roman, 2nd C. BCE
Isn't it amazing what a difference
the small differences can make ?
The copyist had no feeling for what I might call
"the large shape".
Look at how he improvises by
introducing new, smaller forms within the shape
of Leda's buttocks and back that kills the
wonderful sweep of the original.
Look at how he thickens
her arm to make it look dumpy.
Look at how mis-draws
the neck of the swan so it looks broken
instead of strong.
Look at how he changes the proportions of the
flight feathers in the wing so they look puny.
Look at how he wrecks the triangular shape
of the drapery at Leda's leg
so it no longer appears to support her,
how he shrinks the space between Leda and the swan's wing
so it's no longer spacious.
Every change he made was wrong,
he understood nothing about how the original sculpture
was so successful.
A complete disaster !
(and Mr. Lucas was trained at the Royal Academy,
and made this piece when he was 50)
19c French ivory
This looks like a fine little piece to me,
and very fanciful the way that
Leda appears to be leaning against
the bird's wing
Bertram Mackennal (1863-1931)
And didn't you just know this sculptor had to be Anglo ?
(he's Australian, actually)
I presume this object has some kind of functionality ?
that possibly involves the spike that's on the swan's head ?
Maurice Ferrary (1852-1904)
All that's missing are the cigarettes !
More Reuben Nakian
(I think I've seen enough, already)
There's a reason that sculptors
try to proceed beyond their rough sketches.
I wish the US mint
had coins that looked like this one.
In the manner of Lorenzo Bartolini, 1777-1850
Robert has sent this one,
it appears to be 18th C.,
but who knows?
This Leda is very young, boyish Leda
without any hips
Lelio Coluccini (1910-1983) Italy-Brazil
Coluccini seems to have been
another Leda specialist
Falconet after Bouchet
Here's an innovation:
Leda in a three-some
What a nice, dreamy treatment!
When the swan is more like a down comforter.
(but I wonder how the other views look)
Heinz Beberniß (born 1920)
This Leda is from the "Heavy Figure School"
John Sims (his website is found here )
is another specialist in the genre.
Very erotic --
But this is more about how
the participants are feeling,
rather than how they are presented
to our voyeuristic eyes.
Edouard Cazaux (1889-1974)
Edouard Houssin (1847-1919)
Here's another one sent by Robert Mileham.
One of the few that shows
the great bird
approaching from the rear.
Feels very 18th C.
Jules Roulleau (1855-1895)
Here's a feast
of flesh and feathers
from the 19th C.
Not much erotic energy here,
this would work well
as a decorative centerpiece
on a large table,
perhaps surrounded by
seasonal flowers and fruits.
Armand Martial (1884-1960)
A very nice figure,
but this girl is laying
with a down comforter,
not a sexually active bird
Jules Desbois (1851-1935)
This looks like a model study that got retro-fitted with a swan.
But still, the French government commissioned
a marble version in 1891
Josef Josephu (Austrian /American 1889-1970)
(from Jennmaur Gallery )
That pesky bird
can be so annoying
when it demands attention.
Here is the same sculptor, Josephu, with
what may be a more engaging version.
Here's an Italian site that's collected paintings on the subject,
from which the above tender scene has been taken.
Unlike sculpture, painting can manipulate atmospheric effects and perspective.
(If Leda stood up, I don't think
her spindly legs could support that giant head)
This time, the swan wants to have
a good look at Leda's lady parts,
but Leda seems more like the servant
than the lady to whom this dusty old palace belongs.
And unlike most realizations
that anthropomorphize the swan,
this is more like one bird meeting another,
beak to beak.
Here's a more contemporary piece
by the South African sculptor, Wim Botha.
It looks something
that might be seen
as a momentary flash
in the contemporary staging
of a Baroque opera.
Poor Leda and her swan
got together and then exploded!