This month’s masterpieces from Hadrian’s Villa are eight marble statues depicting seated muses.
In Greek mythology, the Muses were sister goddesses of music, poetry, and other artistic and intellectual pursuits. Poets and other artists often called on them for inspiration. Zeus, the king of the gods, was the father of the Muses. Their mother was Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. Not until the 1st century BC did each Muses begin to be related to a specific art. They were worshipped at the Museion of the famous library of Alexandria, from where the modern term “Museum” originates.
The statues were unearthed at Hadrian’s Villa in the 1500s. They were made at the end of Hadrian’s reign by two Roman workshops reproducing Greek models from the 2nd century BC. The seated muses decorated the scenae frons (stage) of the odeon, a small theatre that could have held around 1,200 people.
The statues are now on display in the Prado Museum in Madrid.
In about 1670, the statues were acquired by Queen Cristina of Sweden (1626-1689) and exhibited in her palace in Rome. They were later acquired by Philip V of Spain (1683-1746) and reached the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso (Segovia) in 1725.
The Italian sculptor Ercole Ferrata (1610-1686) heavily restored the muses, who gave them new attributes in accordance with the identification they were given at the time. Only Terpsichore, the muse of dancing and choral song, was correctly identified. Due to their lack of original attributes, the exact names of the other muses cannot be identified. They are now on display with their Baroque-era names.