Hyacinthus was a beautiful young prince of Sparta, loved by the god Apollo. The two took turns throwing the discus, until Apollo, to impress his beloved, threw it with all his might. Hyacinthus who ran to catch it, to impress Apollo in turn, was struck on the head by the discus and died. The hyacinth flower is said to have first sprouted where his blood fell.
Lawrence Macdonald (1799-1878) was born in Gask in Perthshire and was apprenticed to a local mason, Thomas Gibson, before gaining his first influential patron, the architect James Gillespie Graham. It was on his introduction that, following admission to the Trustee's Academy in Edinburgh, Macdonald traveled to Rome where he became one of the founding members of the British Academy of Arts in the city.
Having established a virtual monopoly on portraiture for the Perthshire nobility Macdonald returned to Edinburgh to establish a studio in 1826. Hailed by The Edinburgh Literary Journal as 'our Canova', in the Spring of 1831 he mounted a third exhibition in Pall Mall and was rewarded with the patronage of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Errol, Wordsworth (whom he sculpted as a 'Grecian worthy'), and John Gladstone of Fasque, father of William Ewart (Pearson, ed. op. cit., pp. 67-68).
However as a dedicated neoclassicist the ambience of Rome proved irresistible and Macdonald returned in 1832 to establish an extensive practice with the assistance of his brother, John, and from the 1860s, his own son Alexander. In 1843 he took over Thorvaldsen's former studio in the Piazza Barberini and by the 1850s a visit to the Macdonald workshop was de rigueur for any aspiring grand tourist. Numerous noble commissions of portraiture enabled Macdonald to pursue his favoured genre of ideal statuary and he combined the two in his contribution to the Great Exhibition in 1851 of a huge figure of another patron, Lord Kilmorey, dressed as a Grecian warrior.
The present statue of Hyacinthus was commissioned by John Gladstone (1764-1851) and is the first example of three variants of the subject known to be in existence. In 1852 Macdonald reproduced a version for Prince Albert which remains in the Royal Collection and is displayed in the Marble Hall at Buckingham Palace. It shows Hyacinthus without his chaplet and the tree stump draped with a robe. A third version shows Hyacinthus wearing sandals, as opposed to barefoot as in the present example and that in the Royal Collection, without his chaplet and with the tree stump draped.