CM: This is the head of Praxiteles' Hermes from the renowned sculptural complex in Olympia of the god carrying the Infant Dionysus, which is one of the masterpieces of ancient Greek art. Recorded by Pausanias, the sculpture represents Hermes, the messenger of the Gods, holding the infant Dionysos, who tries to take something from his hand. The story is as follows: Themele, pregnant with Dionysos, died from her fright, when Zeus appeared before her in all of his splendor with thunderbolts. Zeus extracted the infant from Themele's womb and sent him to the nymphs in Crete, in the company of Hermes. Praxiteles may have chosen to represent the moment when Hermes shows Dionysus a shiny object in order to stop his cry. Hermes looks sluggish but manly, resting in the trunk of a tree. On his lips, which have a light shadow, one may discern the beginning of a smile. Hermes' sinuous lips contrast with the straight nose, his tousled hair contrast with his smooth skin. The unrivaled achievement of Praxiteles, is to rid the stone off its hardness, turn it "alive", owing to his great skill in the use of the light and shadow. To endow sculpture with life, Praxiteles moves away from symmetry.
Made from Parian marble and standing 210 cm in height, Hermes carrying the Infant Dionysus is one of few works safely attributed to Praxiteles, and was found in situ intact on its base, several meters under the ground in the cella of the temple of the temple of Hera at Olympia. Dated to ca. 330 BC it was dedicated to the sacred Altis from the Eleians and Arcadians to commemorate their peace treaty. At a later date it was moved to the temple of Hera, where it was found in AD 1877.