Another 19th Century plaster cast of a classic, this version of the Choiseul-Gouffier Apollo is a replica of a Roman copy of a lost, probably bronze, Greek original.

This sculpture (right) lives at the Portland Art Museum’s annex, the Mark Building.

The name is even misleading. Kouroi, or statues of naked male youth, were often called “apollos” as if all were images of the god. Choiseul-Gouffier is not the artist, but the French scholar Marie-Gabriel-Florent-Auguste de Choiseul-Gouffier, ambassador to Greece and member of the L’Académie Française. Choiseul-Gouffier brought the marble sculpture from the Sublime Porte, and it’s home is now the British Museum (see image at the lower right).

Contemporary scholars call the sculpture and it’s many versions the Omphalos Apollo, a nickname taken from the navel stone which was found near the Greek original.

The left hand probably held a small bow, and the right either a bough of laurel or a quiver. At the bottom, a version at the Musei Capitolini in Rome, has had ambiguous hands added by it’s Roman craftsman. The full body from a side view forms a slight “S” shape; it’s head tilts away and down, regal and disengaged. The weight is on the left heel, the body is in motion, walking toward the viewer. The nakedness is shameless, elegant, and cold.

When the casts originally came to Portland their nakedness was described as immodest. I think it shows the power of the images to immediately ascribe them with a human character trait. The founders of the Museum decided for the general public the sculptures be dressed in tunics to cover their nakedness. Perhaps more revealing late evening tours were arranged for the burgeoning intelligencia.

Like the Doryphorus described below, this sculpture is stunning. Even with the seams and bolt holes left from a crude casting, the imperious genius of the Hellene artist and his god cuts through the centuries. A teaching tool to leverage a provincial cultural community, this item is still regularly visited and sketched.

Consider the billions of digital photographs littering the internet, taken from every angle, both old and new, together create an entire virtual world of replica images. We take them for granted, and use them to teach ourselves about the state of the world. We don’t doubt the reality of one because it always sits within a context of a billion similar images, all false. As Magritte says, “this is not a pipe.” No, it’s a painting of a dream of a pipe, and so this cast versions of artwork are also a dream of a dream, a bright focused light in the shadows of a pre-historical world.

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