The Barberini Faun is a Hellenistic masterpiece in Greek sculpture. At 2.15 meters, the massiveness of the figure’s surface features and its emotional realism connect it with the art of Pergamon, dated to the third century B.C. The representation of an ominous, potent, natural force, temporarily subdued by wine was a subject of curiosity and anxiety to the ancient Greeks (Pollitt 1986). This hellenistic realism expressed emotional conditions, pain and suffering through the portrayal of inner character, feelings and experiences. The Barberini Faun expresses this realism in an obvious erotic style.
A Faun is the Roman equivalent of a Greek satyr. In Greek mythology, satyrs were human-like male woodland creatures with animal features including a goat-like tail, hooves, ears, or horns. The art depicts a satyr who has consumed too much wine and has thrown down his panther skin on a convenient rock, fallen into a disturbed, intoxicated sleep. Stuck in a slumbering rococoesque pose, one can almost hear him snore (Kleiner 2009).
The blatant sexuality of the Faun is clear, having wantonly spread legs that focus attention on his genitals. Homosexuality was common in the man’s world of ancient Greece. It is not surprising that when Hellenistic sculptors began to explore the sexuality of the human body, especially in men (Kleiner 2009).
The sleeping motif gives the ‘sex appealing’ posture innocence. In relation to motion, satyrs are meant to be active, dancing, drinking, hunting, making music – eternally awake. The sleeping Faun reverses the natural order, motionless in a realistic and unparalleled posture (Smith 1991).
It was discovered in the 1620s in the moat below Castel Sant’ Angelo in Rome during excavations sponsored by Pope Urban VIII. It came into the possession of the pope’s nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, and was described in the records of his collection as a seated figure. By 1642 it had been transformed into a figure lying on its back, as recorded in a print of that date (Gazda 2002). It was found without legs and left arm. The legs were restored several times before the sculpture was moved to its present home in Munich, and there have been differing
opinions about the angle of the body and the position of the legs. There is still a debate over whether the piece is a Hellenistic original, Roman copy or a Roman creation. Because the marble has Asian origins, it may not even have originated in Rome (Archive 2012).
November 2011/ Munich, Germany (0:47)