Michael Bennett is a confident man these days. The Cleveland Museum of Art’s curator of ancient Near Eastern, Greek and Roman art believes that he made the purchase of a lifetime in 2004, when he persuaded the museum to buy a beautiful and controversial ancient bronze statue of Apollo Sauroktonos, or Apollo the Lizard Slayer.
The Roman historian Pliny the Elder saw what he considered to be an original in the 1st century A.D. (Natural History, book 34.69ff.) and said, “Although Praxiteles was more successful, and therefore more famous for his marble sculptures, he nevertheless also created very beautiful works in bronze…He made a youthful Apollo called the Sauroktonos (Lizard-Slayer), waiting in ambush for a creeping lizard, close at hand, with an arrow.” If the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Apollo Sauroktonos proves to be a Greek work of the Classical period, it would be the only known monumental Greek bronze sculpture that can be securely attributed to any Greek master sculptor through literary sources.
Scholars agree the Apollo is ancient, but are uncertain whether it’s an original by Praxiteles, a copy by artists close to him, or a more distant Roman copy. Other experts say gaps in the work’s provenance, or ownership history, raise doubts about the work. Research is ongoing, and the museum plans to hold a symposium on the work in 2010.