Greek mythology tells the story of Leda, a mortal woman and queen of Sparta who caught the eye of Zeus, king of the gods. Zeus had frequent affairs with mortals and often disguised himself as an animal in order to avoid angry husbands and fathers. He appeared to Leda in the form of a swan, who here is drawn by Leda into her lap while she holds up a sheltering cloak.
Found in 1775 in Rome, this statue is a 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.