Leda and the swan

Classical Period
About 410-370 B.C.

Catalogue Raisonné

Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 037; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 107 (additional published references).


Overall: 88.5 x 53 x 31 cm (34 13/16 x 20 7/8 x 12 3/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Marble, from the Greek island of Paros

Not On View


The Ancient World



Leda moves forward to protect the swan, which she clasps to her side with her right arm. Her sudden movement caused the Doric chiton to open on the right side, becoming unclasped on the shoulder, and slip down below the breast. Vigorous motion is conveyed by the disordered costume, by the prominence of the nude right leg, and by the heavy folds of drapery sweeping back from the left knee. The whole of the figure’s right side is exposed, her smooth flesh framed by drapery. Her left foot, clad in a thick-soled sandal whose straps were probably painted, is propped up. Leda is likely guarding the swan from the pursuing eagle. She is unaware of the trick played by Zeus, who has taken the form of a swan to seduce her.
The missing parts include: Leda’s head, right hand, left arm, right leg from below the knee, part of the left foot; the lower part of the garment on the left side and the base; also the head, neck, and tail of the swan. Several folds of the drapery have been damaged; and there is evidence that the drapery was re-carved. Modifications from the Renaissance period, particularly in the lower back and around the swan, belie the sculpture’s later use as part of a fountain. A portion of drapery at the back has been broken off, and the surface of the break has been roughly worked over, evidence of ancient repairs to the sculpture. In contrast, the surface on the body is generally well preserved. The patina is very light yellow.

Scientific Analysis:

University of South Florida Lab No. 8401: Isotope ratios - delta13C +5.0 / delta18O -3.4,

Attribution - Paros 1. Justification - medium grain, C and O isotopes, Attic style


Probably by 1568, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (b. 1520 – d. 1589), Villa Farnese, Caprarola [see note 1]; by descent within the family to Cardinal Odoardo Farnese (b. 1573 – d. 1626), Villa Farnese, Caprarola [note 2]. By 1903, Edward Perry Warren (b. 1860 – d. 1928) [note 3]; 1904, sold by Edward Perry Warren to the MFA for $74,100.00 [note 4]. (Accession Date: January 19, 1904)


[1] The sculpture might be the “Leda picola” mentioned in a 1568 inventory of the Farnese Collection (“Antichita Possedute dal Card. Aless. Farnese (1568): Inventarium rerum mobilium insignium quae sunt in Palatio Ill. Cardinalis Farnesij” in Documenti inediti per servire alla storia dei musei d’Italia, vol. I (1878), p. 77).

[2] A “fontanella detta della Tartaruga con una Leda e Giove transformato in Gigno di marmo bianco et vaso di marmo mischio” is mentioned in a 1626 inventory of Caprarola drawn after the death of Odoardo Farnese (ASN, Archivio Farnesianio, Fascio 1853I, fol. 106v). See L. Partridge (1971), p. 482, note 73. The subsequent fate of the statue is unclear. It presumably remained at Caprarola until at least 1644 since it is not listed in the 1644 inventory of property in the Farnese collection that was moved to Parma (B. Jestaz, ed., Le Palais Farnese, III, 3 (1994)).

[3] December 30, 1903 letter from the MFA to Edward Perry Warren confirms that the museum received the statue.

[4] This figure is the total price for MFA 04.6-04.37.

In Catalogue of Greek and Roman Sculpture (1925), p. 52, L. D. Caskey associates the MFA Leda and the Swan with a fountain in the gardens of the Villa Farnese at Caprarola described in an epigram by Aurelio Orsi (Ameto Orti), written between 1579 and 1589 (Centonovantuno epigrammi latini d’autore ignoto che illustrano le opera d’arte del palazzo Farnese in Caprarola, pubblicati dal Prof. Giuseppe Cugnori (1808), epigram XXVIII). Indeed, the MFA statue shows signs of having been restored to function as a fountain at some point in its history. From historical letters, we know that sculptor and antiquities restorer Giovanni Battista di Bianchi (1520(?)- 1600) was commissioned by Cardinal Alessandro Farnese to convert a Leda and the Swan statue into a fountain (August 7, 1579, letter from Fulvio Orsini to Alessandro Farnese stating the statue of Leda was chosen to be converted into a fountain (ASPr, Carteggio Farnesiano Estero, Roma, b. 484); August 16, 1579, letter from Giovanni Battista di Bianchi to Alessandro Farnese having received the statue and begun its restoration (ASP, Epistolario Scelto, Inv. No. 116, Busta 28); August 22, 1579, letter from Giovanni Battista di Bianchi to Alessandro Farnese stating the completion of the work and return to Caprarola (ASP, Epistolario Scelto, Inv. No. 116, Busta 28). See L. Partridge, The Art Bulletin 53, no. 4 (1971), p. 482, note 71; C. Robertson, ‘Il Gran Cardinale’: Alessandro Farnese Patron of the Arts (1992), p. 128, appendix no. 106 and 108.

Credit Line

Henry Lillie Pierce Fund