Seated Faun

Manner of Andrea Briosco, called Riccio Italian

Not on view

The stubby horns peeking through the locks of this youth’s dense curls identify him as a faun, a Greco-Roman mythological being that was part man and part goat. Fauns inhabited the pastoral woodlands celebrated by classical poets and most notably during the Renaissance by Jacopo Sannazaro in the poem Arcadia.[1] Unlike hoary goat-legged satyrs, fauns often were depicted as almost fully human idealized nudes. Their physical beauty complemented the bucolic harmony of the country lands in which they dwelt and for which Sannazaro named his poem. Arcadia was not only a place, but also a span of time encompassing the peaceful golden age that existed before civilization disrupted the perfect balance between humankind and nature. Ancient Roman and Renaissance elites drew solace and inspiration from this nostalgic view of the countryside surrounding their villas. At home in the city, they recalled these pleasures by engaging with pastoral poems, paintings, and sculptures—such as perhaps the Seated Faun—that evoked the mythical Arcadian realm.[2]

The Met faun is depicted seated upright on a bell-shaped pedestal. Turning his head to the right and gazing upward with heavy lidded eyes, he parts his lips as if to breathe or speak. The raised right arm is broken and reattached at the shoulder; the lost hand may have held a rustic musical instrument such as panpipes (syrinx).[3] The loosely closed left hand rests empty on the thigh. A subdued sense of animation is conveyed through the opposing movements of the wide-set bent legs, slightly turning torso, and tilted head. The crown of grapevine and the goatskin draped over the pedestal are attributes that identify the faun as a follower of Bacchus, the god of wine, whose drunken ecstatic rituals could ignite either madness or creative inspiration.[4] At rest but with eyes and arm upraised, the faun seems to offer inspiration in gentler form. The idealized figure type, subject, and hushed introspective mood relate this statuette to the small group of seated shepherds and fauns created by the Paduan sculptor Andrea Riccio and his followers. The most significant of these include the two seated shepherds with panpipes in the Louvre (fig. 26a) and Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, as well as the two seated fauns with panpipes in the Ashmolean and The Quentin Foundation Collection.[5]

Leo Planiscig, having completed his 1927 monograph on Andrea Riccio, in 1929/30 introduced the Faun (which he identified as the god Pan) as an exciting new addition to the master’s oeuvre that perfectly conveyed the romanticism and refined style so brilliantly expressed in Riccio’s Louvre Shepherd. Planiscig’s attribution represents the high esteem in which Riccio and his works were held during the early twentieth century. The Faun’s frequent showing in exhibitions from the 1930s to the early 1960s attests to the sustained popularity of bronzes by the master and his followers among sophisticated audiences in Europe, England, and America. Scholars and collectors alike appreciated how Riccio’s minimally tooled bronzes preserved the sculptor’s creative modeling in the wax, thereby uniting artistic invention with technical prowess.[6] The vast number of works attributed to Riccio and his followers during the early twentieth century has been greatly reduced in recent decades through the research of scholar-curators such as Anthony Radcliffe, advances in technical studies, and the bronzes’ display in monographic exhibitions.[7] The Faun’s diminishing glamour in the latter twentieth century demonstrates this process of reassessment. As early as 1977, James David Draper downgraded the Faun’s authorship from Riccio to “Paduan or Venetian” and characterized the statuette as “a clever assimilation of the Riccio style.” A year later, he assigned the work to an anonymous “North Italian” sculptor. The Faun’s history of increasingly generalized attributions reveals the difficulty of securely placing the work within the context of Italian Renaissance bronze production.

The manner in which the Faun was made poses questions. In his technical analysis of 2011, Richard Stone identified its facture as sixteenth century. He noted, however, that X-ray images reveal the casting technique to be incompatible with any other work of the period that he had studied. The core is mixed with fibrous materials typical of Paduan bronzes, but the figure appears to have been assembled using wax-to-wax joins, a method that is inconsistent with this preparatory phase of casting. Stone suggested the possibility that the mixed casting technique evidenced the work of an inexperienced or foreign sculptor or founder. He very speculatively floated the idea that the Faun was made by a German artist familiar with Riccio’s shop practice, noting that Peter and Hans Vischer were in Padua in 1507 when the master was extremely active. Stone also observed that the Faun’s seated pose and rather rough-and-ready modeling are reminiscent of the seated Hercules on the Vischers’ bronze Shrine of Saint Sebaldus (1508–19) in the eponymously named church in Nuremberg.[8] Whether one agrees with Stone or not, his trenchant speculations highlight the Faun’s anomalous status as a sixteenth-century Italian bronze.

Many aspects of the Seated Faun are puzzling. At a little over 28.6 cm in height, this single-figure statuette is large for one made during the first half of the sixteenth century. Riccio’s seated Shepherd in the Louvre, for example, is only about 22.7 cm tall. To put these height distinctions in perspective: the Vischers’ seated Hercules is the same height as the Faun, but its size reflects its function as a figurative support on an imposing architectural monument. Also worth noting is the Faun’s upright pose, which is unlike any of those assumed by the elegantly slumped shepherds and fauns attributed to Riccio and his school. Instead, the Faun’s posture appears to be an inappropriate variation on the seated poses reserved in the Renaissance for depictions of sovereign classical gods and emperors.[9] Upon close examination, other elements of our statuette appear to be similarly at odds with the formal and iconographic conventions of Renaissance Italian bronzes. For example, its leafy crown bears minuscule grapes modeled in proportion to the size of the figure rather than to the viewer’s ability to see them. The almost imperceptible, vestigial horns probably prompted a change in the work’s identification from “Pan” to the cautiously generalized “Seated Bacchic Figure,” a subject-type that does not exist in sixteenth-century art unless the figure is close to reeling-down drunk.[10] The awkward bell-shaped pedestal is embellished on the back with a large, mysteriously blank, and ultimately meaningless inscription tablet. Neither the pedestal nor the tablet has a counterpart in sixteenth-century statuettes.

The Faun’s lack of figurative cohesion, gestural logic, and surface effect are noteworthy. The muscles on the torso, the facial features, and the goatskin give the impression of having been applied in random piecemeal fashion rather than modeled with attention to anatomical or internal structure. Although the Faun is thought to have held an attribute such as panpipes in his lost right hand, the bizarre 90-degree bend of the arm makes it impossible to fathom the intended purpose of the handless gesture. The break at the wrist is inexplicably fresh, as is the overall surface of the sculpture, which bears no traces of wear. The haphazard hammering of the metal also is completely unlike that found on Riccio’s bronzes, which are lightly struck overall with a ball-peen hammer so that the shallow surface depressions scatter light and create shadows that envelop the figures in a soft luminescent sfumato.[11] Overall, the design, modeling, and finishing of the Faun call to mind an assemblage of iconographically and artistically untethered citations.

Although in recent years, students of Renaissance bronze statuettes have become increasingly mindful of the significant number of forgeries created to supply the voracious demands of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century collecting market, identifying these works is still in its early stages. As Draper perceptively stated, the Faun is indeed a “clever assimilation of the Riccio style.” Whether the statuette is a modern simulation remains to be determined.

(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. For Renaissance concepts of Arcadia and Sannazaro’s poem, see Kidwell 1993. For Renaissance statuettes as expressions of Arcadian themes, see Blume 1985b.
2. On this topic in general, see Cranston 2019, pp. 119–25. For the Seated Faun, see Untermyer 1962, pp. xvi–xvii.
3. First suggested in Planiscig 1929–30, p. 169.
4. On satyrs (and fauns) in the Renaissance, see McStay 2014, pp. 323–37, with earlier references.
5. Walters, 54.234; Ashmolean, WA1899.CDEF.B1077. All four bronze statuettes were shown together in the 2008 Riccio exhibition at the Frick; see Allen 2008a, pp. 228–51, cats. 21–24. For the Louvre Shepherd, see also Malgouyres 2020, pp. 177–79, 408, no. 374.
6. On this core aesthetic principle of Riccio’s art, see Motture 2019, pp. 34–39, 167–71, with earlier references.
7. These topics are explored in Bacchi and Giacomelli 2008 and Allen 2008a.
8. The sculpture was cast directly with extremely thin, silt iron core pins in the manner of Riccio but with uncharacteristically thick and uneven walls. R. Stone/TR, September 6, 2011.
9. For example, MMA, 49.97.152 and 41.72(2.153).
10. In Untermyer 1962, the statuette is identified as “Pan.” It is titled “Seated Bacchic Figure” in department records beginning in 1964, when the Untermyer collection entered The Met.
11. The surface effects of Riccio’s hammering technique are eloquently described in Motture 2008.

Seated Faun, Manner of Andrea Briosco, called Riccio (Italian, Trent 1470–1532 Padua), Bronze, Italian, Padua

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