Seated satyr with silvered eyes
Andrea Briosco, called Riccio Italian
Seated on the ground, a satyr raises a lamp with his right hand. Grasping a panpipe in his left, his forearm rests on his knee for balance. His glinting silver eyes are offset by dark shadows beneath his knitted brow. The satyr’s upward gaze and parted lips form an expectant acknowledgment of a viewer overhead, as if he had just been interrupted while serenading. With no base underneath, the satyr supports himself directly on his buttocks, his outstretched goat legs lending stability. While the implements in his hands proffer light and song, his lithe bearing beckons touch. A viewer accepting this invitation to turn or handle the sculpture would quickly discover its deliberate workmanship on all sides, a wisp of a tail punctuating the knotty muscles along his back.
When this hybrid creature meets human hand, its heaviness surprises any impulse to lift it. Such density results from the solid casting of the satyr’s limbs (with the exception of the shaggy thighs), as X-radiographs confirm. This is a singular sculpture, the making of which gives clues to its authorship. Numerous facial features such as the beard, ears, and hair were rendered in added wax, unique elements destroyed in the casting process. The head is large in relation to the body, the beard is schematically cropped in a sharp diagonal, and the neck is thick but serviceable. The hands and attributes are clumsy. The torso, by comparison, is sensitively rendered, with sinuous musculature and a nipped waist signaling strong anatomical knowledge. While the satyr maintained an attribution to the Paduan master Andrea Riccio for much of the twentieth century, it is worth developing the proposal of James David Draper that it was based on a model by Riccio but completed by another sculptor. Draper rightly noted that the surface finish is too finely worked to match Riccio’s distinctive hammering technique. Other features also negate Riccio’s direct authorship. No independent figural sculpture widely attributed to him has silvered eyes. And whereas the syrinxes in Riccio’s autograph sculptures bear properly smooth reeds, the syrinx in our satyr’s hand is punctuated with apertures better suited to independent pipes. The superfluity of fingerholes matches this syrinx to others found in later sixteenth-century bronzes, including several attributed to the workshop of Desiderio da Firenze.
It seems probable that the Seated Satyr bears a torso and limbs derived from an original model by Riccio, but the head, hands, and attributes were original to the later sculptor who cast it. Support for this possibility is found in the nearly identical rendering of the torso in a group of three drinking satyrs in Padua, Paris, and Vienna, all with strong claims to be autograph works by Riccio. It may well be that the sculpture was made by an associate of Riccio or member of his workshop with access to sculptural models after his death. The Met’s Seated Satyr has a core that includes organic material in a manner similar to Riccio’s working methods, suggesting its maker also shared knowledge with the famed sculptor. As with many Paduan bronzes in the wake of Riccio, the metal is not bronze but brass.
Our bronze reveals the potential to profit from proximity to Riccio. There are four other documented versions of this figural type: in the Bargello (fig. 16a), Louvre, Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, and formerly the Bardini collection. Each sports varying pairs of utilitarian attributes, including (respectively): a shell and vase, a shell and panpipe, a conch and panpipe, and a dish and candleholder. While the Bargello and ex-Bardini satyrs are especially similar to their Met counterpart, their horns are all different, and that in the Bargello has short ears. These bronzes bear a range of attributions, but some of them could be the work of one sculptor.
The differences among these bronze satyrs are also representative of the high demand for such objects in the Veneto, where they were produced. Satyrs abounded in the studioli and private chambers of wealthy men in the Republic’s reach. Small adjustments to a satyr’s attributes or the addition of silvered eyes could have enticed a different buyer at the right price, and there was precedent for collecting multiple bronzes of the same subject. When Riccio first made such bronzes for intellectual friends in Padua, many linked to its renowned university, he was surely aware of the philosophical, literary, aesthetic, and mythological associations engendered by satyrs. This spoke to the local Paduan interest in natural philosophy, particularly through the study of Aristotle, and the close association of satyrs with the property of heat. While today one might find the ithyphallic satyr emblematic of overt sexuality, in an alchemical context the statuette carried a layered understanding of generation essential to natural production and human creativity.
Satyrs, however, bore many other literary associations. The humanist project made accessible a wide range of classical sources with satyrs and related characters including Pan and Marsyas. Renaissance readers encountered such figures not only in the works of Virgil, Theocritus, and Euripides, for example, but also in new pastoral writings, the most famous among them Jacopo Sannazaro’s Arcadia, first published in 1504. Such texts furnished a constellation of interpretations of satyrs, whether allegorical, comical, or melancholic. Unbridled in meaning, satyrs were broadly evocative of a pastoral world that Venetian upper classes cultivated intellectually and through the physical building of private gardens and villas.
Collecting spurred further collecting. The popularity of bronze satyrs also owed to the voracious appetite for antiquities in the Veneto, with these objects enriching ancient and modern sculptures in household collections, not to mention natural wonders such as shells sometimes displayed nearby. And one cannot discount the fame of Riccio himself, whose Paschal Candelabrum in Padua’s Basilica del Santo—an intellectually intricate masterpiece—constituted a public repository of secular motifs translatable into independent sculptures, its bound satyrs looking down from just above eye level (see p. 00, fig. 13c). To the extent that many surviving bronze satyrs bear the modern designation of “style of Riccio,” this feature may have been prized by Renaissance collectors after the death of one of Padua’s most talented sculptors.
Satyrs’ multivalence supports their sculptural prevalence in the Veneto, but specific features of our Seated Satyr offered particular stimuli for socialization and cogitation. Carrying his panpipes, the satyr bespeaks accompaniment to music produced with the voice, lute, or other instruments. Sixteenth-century Venice’s flourishing musical culture promoted genteel skills in performance (especially with the lute) and improvisation. When lit, the small oil lamp of the Seated Satyr provided fleeting illumination of an intimate space and enlivened the figure’s silvered eyes. The lamp’s form, however, is enigmatic. Viewed from an oblique angle or behind, subtle whorls are visible at the apex of the vessel, suggesting a shell motif common to other functional bronzes. Shells matched powerfully with bronze satyrs, as containers for fluids for alchemical interaction with the satyr’s innate heat, as well as completing a literary allusion to Pan terrificus, whose sounding of a shell frightened the Titans.
But the satyr’s lamp is less readily identifiable as a shell when viewed head-on or from the sculpture’s proper right side. Its main aperture is not wide like a shell but tapers narrowly to accommodate a runnel for the wick, and it has curved incisions, evocative of folds. When lit, the object reads most clearly as a lamp. But spent, it is a more ambiguous vessel that could hold any liquid. An erudite viewer might recall famous visual examples of satyrs with wineskins. He or she might also have been aware of ancient pottery vessels with one or two apertures used to carry wine or oil, the modern name of which (askoi) derives from the ancient term for wineskins. Indeed, when spent, the satyr’s gesture could raise not the promise of light, but imagined wine for imbibing. Duty bound to Silenus, satyrs joined in Bacchic revelry that promoted ecstatic creation. Their propensity to fashion anything into a vessel with wine was celebrated in Angelo Poliziano’s Stanze (1475), in which they accompany Bacchus: “and with him it appears that satyrs and bacchants kick up the dust, and yell with raised voices: that one is seen swaying, those appear to stumble; that one drinks from a tambourine, those others laugh; that one fashions a cup from a horn and those from their hands; that one grabbed a nymph and that one spins.” Riccio’s oil lamp in the Frick (see cat. 13) features Bacchic friezes that celebrate poetic ecstasy and spiritual ascent, which the lamp in the Seated Satyr externalizes through the identity of its bearer.
The oil lamp borne aloft by the Seated Satyr would have functioned differently from other light sources around it. The minuscule lamp seems to fit the satyr’s self-contained activities more than the protracted human endeavors of a studiolo or bedchamber. It guarantees stability; even when filled to the brim, the lofted lamp makes no threat of overturning the baseless sculpture. In its diminutiveness, the lamp demarcates limited time before the oil burns out. In an environment where individuals could measure increasingly fine units of time with hourglasses, clocks, and other tools, this scale helps to portion a brief activity. The satyr could have illuminated singing, socializing, scribbling, or simple admiration of his own novelty before darkness returned.
(For key to shortened references see bibliography in Allen, Italian Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2022.)
1. R. Stone/TR, January 17, 2011.
2. Untermyer 1962, pp. xvi, 8–9, pls. 14, 15. The Satyr entered The Met’s collection as an autograph work by Riccio, but Draper subsequently revised and expanded upon his attribution in MMA 1975, p. 231; Untermyer 1977, p. 159; Draper 1978a, pp. 176–77.
3. A seated Pan in the Ashmolean with silvered eyes was historically attributed to Riccio (with some doubts), but Warren 2001a has offered a compelling argument against his authorship, proposing instead an attribution to Desiderio da Settignano. See also Radcliffe 1986.
4. For Riccio’s shepherds with syrinxes, see Louvre, OA 6311; Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, 54.234.
5. See, for example, cat. 19A, as well as a perfume burner in the Ashmolean, WA2004.1.
6. Musei Civici, Padua, 197; Louvre, TH 89; Kunsthistorisches Museum, KK 5539. See the respective entries by Claudia Kryza-Gersch, Franca Pellegrini, and Philippe Malgouyres in Allen 2008a, pp. 158–73, cats. 10–12 (all with bibliography). See also Richard Stone on the technical features of the proximity of these sculptures in ibid., pp. 92–93. The similarity of the body to these sculptures is based on an observation by Denise Allen in ibid., pp. 148–49.
7. R. Stone/TR, January 17, 2011.
8. Louvre, OA 9962; Jacquemart-André, OA-2223. See Dimitrios Zikos in Bacchi and Giacomelli 2008, pp. 346–47; Malgouyres 2020, pp. 216–18, 451; Giannini 2007, p. 71, cat. 2.8; Christie, Manson & Woods, London, June 5, 1899, Collection of Signor Stephano Bardini, p. 64, pl. 2. See also Planiscig 1927, pp. 255, 354.
9. Attributions of these bronzes to Riccio have shifted over the years, including strong endorsements for some. See, for example, Pope-Hennessy 1963a, pp. 18–21.
10. The proximity of Riccio and Desiderio da Firenze, for example, has received different assessments. See Warren 2001a; Jestaz 2005.
11. See Malgouyres 2020, pp. 213–29; McStay 2014, pp. 323–37 (both with bibliography).
12. Renaissance inventories with definitive descriptions of small bronzes in a single collection are rare, but see Fletcher 1981, p. 467.
13. Blume 1985b, pp. 178–85. See also McStay 2014, pp. 325–26.
14. On the textual presence of satyrs in the Renaissance, see Lavocat 2005.
15. Cranston 2019.
16. Favaretto 1990; V. Mancini 1995; P. Brown 1996; Schmitter 1997.
17. Banzato 2008b (with bibliography).
18. Selfridge-Field 2018.
19. For a discussion of this topic with reference to The Met’s Seated Satyr, see Pierguidi 2006. 20. See especially the Bacchic sarcophagus displayed before Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome, during the Renaissance: British Museum, 1805,0703.130 (Rubinstein 1976). On satyrs and wineskins in ancient art, see Lissarrague 1990, pp. 68–76. A potent Renaissance example of a bronze oil lamp in the form of a wineskin with two apertures associated with Riccio is in the Walters Art Museum, 54.37.
21. Stanze 111:3–8; see Poliziano 1997, vol. 1, p. 27.
22. Allen in Allen 2008a, pp. 182–89.
23. Crosby 1997, pp. 75–94.
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