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Friday, June 5, 2020

The Pasquino Group: Menelaus Carrying the Body of Patroclus or Ajax Carrying the Body of Achilles?

Among the most poignant sculptures at the Loggia dei Lanzi (and my favorite) is the ancient Flavian era (1st century CE) Pasquino Group (also known as "Menelaus Carrying the Body of Patroclus" or "Ajax Carrying the Body of Achilles"), a group of marble sculptures that copy a Hellenistic bronze original, dating to ca. 200–150 BCE.    During the 16th century, various authors proposed different identifications for the dead figure, including Hercules, Geryon, and Alexander the Great. Bernhard Schweitzer's 1936 "Das Original der sogennanten Pasquino-Gruppe" identifies the subject of the group as Menelaus carrying the body of Patroclus, However, this identification has been questioned and the identification of Ajax carrying the body of Achilles is now widely accepted for most of the known 15 Roman copies.  However, five fragments of a Pasquino group were excavated from Hadrian's Villa by Gavin Hamilton in 1769. This sculpture was a part of the Roman emperor Hadrian's collection of copies of Greek masterpieces. Unlike other copies, the deceased figure in Hadrian's copy is wounded on the back. This has been interpreted as evidence that Hadrian's copy was meant to represent Menelaus and Patroclus, since the Iliad states that he was killed by a blow to the back. These fragments are in the Vatican Museums. The head of Menelaus is on display in the museum's Hall of Busts.

Menelaus (or Ajax), part of the Pasquino Group, at the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy © 2005 Mary Harrsch

Menelaus cradling a dead Patroclus or Ajax holding a dead Achilles, the so-called Pasquino Group, at the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy.© 2005 Mary Harrsch

Menelaus (or Ajax) at the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy © 2005 Mary Harrsch

The dead Patroclus (or Achilles), part of the Pasquino Group, at the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy
© 2005 Mary Harrsch

Bust of Menelaus at the Vatican Museums courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor shakko

Images are all mine except the one of the bust of Menelaus at the Vatican Museum.  It is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor shakko.

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