Beauty and Laughter Entwined

"It's done in a very elevated way, but there's a great deal of humor here."—Luke Syson, curator

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, 1598–1680). Bacchanal: A Faun Teased by Children, 1562–1629. Marble. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, Fletcher, Rogers, and Louis V. Bell Funds, and Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, 1976 (1976.92). Learn more about this object.

How does the sculpted body communicate? Hear from Met experts, leading authorities, and rising stars, each with a unique viewpoint on the language of gesture, facial expression, and pose.

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Luke Syson: So what you're looking at is the figure of a satyr, which you understand to be inhuman by his pointed ears and the little tail above his buttocks, who is climbing up a tree to get at more grapes. He's already got some grapes wrapped round his head, and he's being prevented from making his very steep climb by two little children, who are greedily grabbing at the grapes that are sitting on his forehead.

And one of them, you can see, has stuffed his mouth full of grapes. Some people think that he's sticking his tongue out at the satyr, but actually what I think he's done is put so many grapes into his mouth that one of them is kind of popping out. And he's got that slightly constipated look of a child who has stuffed his mouth so full that he doesn't quite know how to chew it and swallow it.

The pose of the satyr is really extreme, with his leg raised in a way which is really uncomfortable-looking. It's funny because it manages to look both athletic and completely unstable. It's the sort of daring gesture you do when you're absolutely sozzled.

There's something about . . . in this sculpture of, you know, a summer's day in the park with the kids after a few bottles of wine, and everyone is very relaxed and having a slightly silly time. And I think this is all part of this sculpture. It's done in a very, elevated way; but there's a great deal of humor here, I think, and that's part of it. It's meant to be funny, and that's an idea that sometimes we lose when we see pieces in a museum: that they're meant to entertain.

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