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Barberini Faun

Barberini Faun, c. 220 B.C.E., Hellenistic Period (Glyptothek, Munich). Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

STEVEN ZUCKER: Dionysus, the god of wine, didn't like to be lonely. He was surrounded by satyrs and by maenads. He loved to party. BETH HARRIS: And you can't party alone. STEVEN ZUCKER: No, you can't party alone. And of course, those satyrs would become tired sometimes, after they drank a bit too much. And that's exactly the subject of the Barberini Faun that we're looking at. BETH HARRIS: Now, a satyr is not a human being. He may look human to us, but he's, in Greek mythology, part animal, really. STEVEN ZUCKER: That's right. He's a subhuman. The hierarchy of the gods were the gods of Mount Olympus at the top. Then you had heroes that were half divine and half human. Then you had humans. And then you had subhumans, and even below that, monsters. A satyr would be a subhuman. And if you look really closely, you can tell that, although he looks quite human in most ways, he's got a tail, pointy ears, and sometimes this is even represented with hooves. BETH HARRIS: Yeah, you can see the tail actually coming from behind his left thigh. That's where I first noticed it. STEVEN ZUCKER: And for the Greeks, these particular subhumans, the satyrs, were half civilized and half wild. And so it was a wonderful way to express the uncultivated, the kind of barbaric qualities of human nature. BETH HARRIS: His name is the Barberini Faun. He's not really a faun. He's really more a satyr. But he's called the Barberini Faun because when he was discovered in Rome, near the Castel Sant'Angelo in 1625, the pope at the time was from the Barberini family. And everyone recognized how spectacular this figure was. And the pope said, well, I officially declare this to be part of my family collection. STEVEN ZUCKER: He wanted to do that because it was so important, not only as just a stellar example of sculpture, but we think that this actually dates to the third century BCE. And that it is an original Greek sculpture. BETH HARRIS: Although it's always very hard to tell whether something is a Greek original or a later Roman copy. STEVEN ZUCKER: It could be a terrific copy. We do know, though, that at least a portion of it has been restored. And you can see those restorations quite clearly in the lower part of the left thigh and almost the entire right leg and foot. BETH HARRIS: So this spectacular sculpture ended up here in Munich when it was acquired by Prince Ludwig of Bavaria in the early 19th century. Quite a sculpture to add to his collection for his new museum. STEVEN ZUCKER: It's an amazing thing to think that this was likely found in the moat of Hadrian's Tomb in what is now Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome. I imagine people were vying to purchase this. BETH HARRIS: It's incredibly erotic. This figure has his legs spread. He's in a drunken, half sleeping, half awake state. STEVEN ZUCKER: We can see that in his body. On the one hand, it's absolute exhaustion. He is just dead tired. But on the other side, you can see the agitation of his body. There's tension there. Look at that right leg, the way it's pushed up. Now, that part is a restoration. But we know that that's pretty much the placement because of the rock on which it sat. BETH HARRIS: And you can see from his face, too, that there's a combination of exhaustion and restlessness. STEVEN ZUCKER: Well, look at that face. It is just spectacularly sensitive. And I love the fact that it's not symmetrical. His head is pushed over to the side. And if you look at his cheek straight on, you can see that gravity is compressing the right side of his face and it's expanding the left side. And so there really is this intense naturalism, this observation of the elastic qualities of the human body. BETH HARRIS: Now, we're in the Hellenistic period, where ancient Greek artists are expanding their subject matter. So we don't just have the heroic, ideal, athletic nudes that we saw in the classical period. But here, the art is exploring more emotional states, more varieties of subject matter. STEVEN ZUCKER: That's right. Sometimes this is even referred to as the Hellenistic Baroque, because of its willingness to remove the reserve that we associate with the high classical period before. BETH HARRIS: He's certainly not reserved in any way. STEVEN ZUCKER: No, not at all. So what are the other accoutrements? What are the other symbols that identify him as a satyr? As if the tail and the ears and the wanton abandon quality wasn't enough, you can see that he's laid out a leopard skin. He's on a rock, and it's certainly protecting him from the roughness of the rock. And you can see that he's even keeping his heel on it. It's softer, and he's rolled it up a little bit under his arm so that it functions somewhat like a cushion. BETH HARRIS: Although it is a little bit hard for you to imagine him walking up to this rock, laying down the leopard skin, and then somehow lying on it. STEVEN ZUCKER: No, it's a conceit. BETH HARRIS: It is. STEVEN ZUCKER: So you said that this is Hellenistic, and it certainly is, in so many ways. But it is clearly informed by the classical tradition that had come before it. BETH HARRIS: In terms of its treatment of the human body and its attention to musculature and anatomy. STEVEN ZUCKER: Absolutely. And I think that's really clear in the torso. BETH HARRIS: We can see the folds of his flesh in his abdomen, or the careful articulation of the muscles in the shoulders and the armpit. This is an amazing understanding of human anatomy. STEVEN ZUCKER: But it is also a little bit off-kilter. You can see that the ribcage is pushing a little bit to his left. And so the whole thing has a gentle turn to it, making it even more complex. BETH HARRIS: There is a turn in the torso, and we see that in other ancient Greek sculptures, like the Belvedere Torso. And although this was found 100 years after Michelangelo, or a little bit less, you can see how that kind of twisting and torsion in the body was something that Michelangelo would pick up on. STEVEN ZUCKER: I think if Michelangelo had ever had the opportunity to see this, he would have absolutely loved it. BETH HARRIS: No question.