What generations of an east German family thought of as a piece of neoclassical garden sculpture was tentatively associated yesterday by a US museum with one of the greatest lost masterpieces of ancient Greek statuary. For the time being, the Cleveland Museum of Art is fighting shy of a direct claim linking the slender bronze youth it bought from an international antiquities dealer with the Apollo Sauroktonos – the lizard-slayer – fashioned by Praxiteles in the fourth century BC. Praxiteles, active from 380 to 325 BC, is among the top five ancient Greek sculptors. A marble statue of Hermes discovered in Olympia in 1877 and exhibited at the local museum is considered to be the only surviving piece fashioned by the artist. «It is very important for us to make claims we can prove,» Museum Director Katharine Lee Reid told the New York Times. «We all feel strongly that it is early and very important.» The 1.5-meter-high bronze of the youthful god aiming a dart at a lizard on a tree replicates the two surviving marble copies of Praxiteles’ Apollo that were made during Roman times. But Cleveland Museum experts believe it is an earlier work. «This magnificent sculpture has several stylistic and technical features that we associate with monumental Classical Greek bronzes, and ancient testimony attributing to Praxiteles and Apollo Sauroktonos in bronze greatly adds to the work’s importance,» Michael Bennet, the museum’s curator of Greek and Roman Art, said yesterday. The museum bought the work from the Geneva gallery of Phoenix Ancient Art Dealers. It had belonged to a family in east Germany (before WWII) which used it as a garden ornament, believing it dated to the 18th or 19th century. After the war, it was cut into pieces.