Barberini Faun
Marble. Ca. 220 BCE.
Height 215 cm.
Munich, GlyptotekPhoto by Sergey Sosnovskiy

Barberini Faun.

Marble. Ca. 220 BCE.
Height 215 cm.

Munich, Glyptotek
(München, Glyptotek).

Private collection, Barberini.

The Barberini Faun

c. 220 BC.
H. 215 cm.

This statue was found c. 1625 in Rome near the Castel Sant’Angelo. Urban VIII of the Barberini family was pope at the time. He declared the statue to be an inalienable possession of the family, hence its name (for the history of its acquisition, see pp. 175—179). The statue is a Greek original. This can be surmised from the lively working of the surface, the treatment of the hair and the masterly summary depiction of minor details. That the statue hails from Asia Minor also speaks for its being a Greek original. The work was brought from that region in the imperial period.

The figure depicts a satyr. The baroque designation of “Faun” — a Roman shepherd god — has established itself, but is not correct. Satyrs, mythical companions of Dionysus, the god of wine, are primarily man-like creatures with some animal features. They have pointed ears, in the case of this satyr largely hidden by the arms and hair, and a small horse’s tail (the end of which can be seen behind the left thigh). The ivy wreath in his hair also indicates that the satyr belongs to the orgiastic world of Dionysus. All these attributes are of secondary consideration in the case of this figure, which is remarkable for its dramatic pose: a well-built young man in such a provocatively erotic, lascivious pose can only be a satyr. Exhausted by dancing and drinking he has sunk down on a rock over which he had first placed his “garment”, a panther skin. His movements seem free and uninhibited, but are nonetheless subject to a clear rhythm: the arm stretching back over the head corresponds to the position of the left leg, and the sharply bent right leg (restored, but the position is confirmed) is answered by the equally sharply bent left arm, and the left hand touches the panther skin close to the hole in the rock (the hole was made by the Romans in order to use the satyr as a fountain figure). The sculptor has combined the strictly composed figure with numerous naturalistic details: thus he places the retracted right foot on the edge of the panther skin as though the satyr, trying to find the most comfortable position, seeks the softness of the panther skin with his heel. Similarly the panther skin is rolled up under the left shoulder in order to cushion the hardness of the rock. The sculptor shows — by means of the stretched folds of the panther skin from armpit to thigh and between the legs — that the satyr is stretching on his uncomfortable resting place. He is thus not sunk in deep sleep — which would not be credible, as he can lean only with his right shoulder on the rock, while his back has no support.

A similar juxtaposition of relaxation and tension can be seen in the face: the brows are contracted above the closed, deep-set eyes; they indicate internal restlessness, from the previous dancing and romping. The mouth is open; the satyr breathes heavily. The facial features with the prominent cheekbones and the ignoble shape of the nose have a somewhat crude appearance. The sculptor is able to go beyond the initial impression and to express by means of the figure’s pose and the selection of individual details the essential features of this mythological figure: his uncouthness, crude sensuality, restlessness and state of intoxication. The sculptor also deliberately selected formal contrasts in the body: the restrained, almost “classical” styling of the abdomen and chest forms an effective contrast to the bold movement of the limbs. As a counterpoint he builds up the back muscles to an expressive pathos (fig. p. 106). It is no wonder that this work has continued to be admired for its aesthetic appeal since its discovery, which is true of only a few other works of antiquity. Numerous artists and writers have positively waxed lyrical over this figure. Justinus Kerner, a Swabian doctor and poet (1786—1862), who drank at least two and a half litres of wine a day and who had a species of vine named after him, grasped the essence of this portrait of a satyr. His hymn to this masterpiece of Greek sculpture begins with the verses:

Oh divine Faun! Wake up! You are alive!
Say what enchantment overcame you,
That you have floated for centuries
Half waking, half sleeping?
(сс) 2008. Photo: Sergey Sosnovskiy (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Text: museum inscription to the sculpture.
© 2007. Description: Wünsche R. Glyptothek, Munich. Masterpieces of Greek and Roman sculpture. Beck C. H., München, 2007, S. 108—110.
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