As Ovid told the story in his Metamorphoses, when the beautiful nymph Daphne finally escaped the pursuing Apollo by turning into a laurel tree, the Roman god of music and poetry pledged his unrequited love: Although you cannot be my wife, you shall at least, be my tree; I shall always wear you on my hair, on my quiver, O Laurel. In this marble, half-life-size statue inspired by this episode of the Metamorphoses, Apollo crowns himself with a laurel wreath. Nude except for sandals, his lyre hangs on the tree trunk that supports a piece of rumpled drapery. He stands in contrapposto, a balanced stance characterized by the opposition of straight and bent limbs, in a moment of reflection after the dramatic chase.
Apollo's nudity, his broad, muscular chest, and his relaxed, balanced pose all recall famous antique representations of the god. But while sculptor Antonio Canova clearly emulated several antiques, his Apollo is not a copy of an already existing statue. The commission for the marble was the result of a competition organized by Don Abbondio Rezzonico, nephew of the Venetian Pope Clement XIII. It is Canova's first fully classicizing work, carved in the Neoclassical style for which he soon became famous.