Barberini Faun

Part man, part goat, this companion of the god of wine relaxes after a night of drinking.


Barberini Faun, c. 220 B.C.E., Hellenistic Period (Glyptothek, Munich)

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[0:00] [music]

Dr. Steven Zucker: [0:04] Dionysus, the god of wine, didn’t like to be lonely. He was surrounded by satyrs and by maenads. He loved to party.

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:13] You can’t party alone.

Dr. Zucker: [0:14] No. You can’t party alone. 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.

Dr. Harris: [0:25] Now, a satyr is not a human being. He may look human to us, but he’s, in Greek mythology, part animal really.

Dr. Zucker: [0:33] 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.

[0:47] A satyr would be a subhuman. 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.

Dr. Harris: [0:59] You can see the tail actually coming from behind his left thigh. That’s where I first noticed it.

Dr. Zucker: [1:06] For the Greeks, these particular subhumans, the satyrs, were half civilized and half wild. It was a wonderful way to express the uncultivated, the kind of barbaric qualities of human nature.

Dr. Harris: [1:17] 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.

[1:34] Everyone recognized how spectacular this figure was. And the pope said, “I officially declare this to be part of my family collection.”

Dr. Zucker: [1:42] He wanted to do that because it was so important. Not only is it just a stellar example of sculpture, but we think that this actually dates to the third century B.C.E and that it is an original Greek sculpture.

Dr. Harris: [1:55] Although it’s always very hard to tell whether something is a Greek original or a later Roman copy.

Dr. Zucker: [2:00] It could be a terrific copy. We do know, though, that at least a portion of it has been restored. You can see those restorations quite clearly in the lower part of the left thigh and almost the entire right leg and foot.

Dr. Harris: [2:14] 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.

Dr. Zucker: [2:25] 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.

Dr. Harris: [2:36] It’s incredibly erotic. This figure has his legs spread. He’s in a drunken half-sleeping half-awake state.

Dr. Zucker: [2:44] 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’s sat.

Dr. Harris: [3:04] You can see from his face, too, that there is a combination of exhaustion and restlessness.

Dr. Zucker: [3:10] 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 cheeks 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 is this intense naturalism, this observation of the elastic qualities of the human body.

Dr. Harris: [3:36] 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.

Dr. Zucker: [3:54] 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.

Dr. Harris: [4:04] He’s certainly not reserved in any way.

[4:07] [laughter]

Dr. Zucker: [4:07] 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 abandoned 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.

[4:25] 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.

Dr. Harris: [4:34] Although it is a little bit hard for me to imagine him walking up to this rock, laying down the leopard skin, and then somehow lying on it.

[4:41] [laughs]

Dr. Zucker: [4:42] No, it’s a conceit.

Dr. Harris: [4:43] It is.

Dr. Zucker: [4:44] 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.

Dr. Harris: [4:52] In terms of its treatment of the human body, and its attention to musculature and anatomy.

Dr. Zucker: [4:56] Absolutely, and I think that’s really clear in the torso.

Dr. Harris: [4:59] We can see the folds of his flesh in his abdomen, or the careful articulation of the muscles and the shoulders and the armpit. This is an amazing understanding of human anatomy.

Dr. Zucker: [5:10] But it is also a little bit off-kilter. You can see that the rib cage is pushing a little bit to his left, and the whole thing has a gentle turn to it, making it even more complex.

Dr. Harris: [5:22] 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 a hundred 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.

Dr. Zucker: [5:40] I think if Michelangelo had ever had had the opportunity to see this, he would have absolutely loved it.

Dr. Harris: [5:45] No question.

[5:46] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, "Barberini Faun," in Smarthistory, December 9, 2015, accessed May 18, 2024,