The composition of this two-foot tall bronze sculpture--with its contrapposto pose and ancient Greek cloak--is based on what artists and collectors considered one of the most beautiful surviving statues from antiquity, the ancient Roman marble known as Belvedere Antinous, now in the Vatican Museums. While the original was first thought to represent Roman Emperor Hadrian's handsome Greek lover Antinous, scholars now believe the work is a representation of the Olympian god Hermes. Considered a model of ideal human proportions, the statue inspired many artistic interpretations.
From the Renaissance on, the European elite sought reduced-size bronze reproductions made after famous ancient models to display in their collections. It is believed French aristocrat and collector Louis Hesselin commissioned this statue during a trip to Italy in the 1630s. Upon his death, this bronze, along with more than thirty others he owned, were acquired by the Sun King, Louis XIV.
The N.4 engraved on the back of the right ankle is the statue's inventory number from the bronze collection of the French crown, indicating the statue's royal provenance.