Greek mythology tells the story of Leda, a queen of Sparta who caught the eye of Zeus, king of the gods. Zeus frequently had affairs with mortals, often disguising himself as an animal to overpower or deceive his victims. In seducing Leda, Zeus took the form of a swan, and here he is drawn into her lap while she holds up a sheltering cloak.
Found in 1775 in Rome, this statue is a first-century Roman copy of an earlier Greek statue from the 300s B.C. attributed to Timotheos. More than two dozen copies of this statue survive, attesting to the theme's popularity among the Romans. The contrast of the clinging, transparent drapery on Leda's torso, especially over her left breast, and the heavy folds of cloth bunched between her legs characterizes Timotheos's style. The statue both conceals and reveals the female body: a tension often found in sculpture of the 300s B.C., before actual female nudity became acceptable.
After its discovery, the statue was extensively restored and reworked. Both arms, most of the outstretched cloak, the swan's head, and the folds of cloth between Leda's legs are eighteenth-century restorations. The head, though ancient, is not original to this work, but comes from a statue of Venus.