The Myth behind the Bust

"What looks like drapery is, in fact, the skin from the the breast."—Wolfram Koeppe, curator

Balthasar Permoser (German, 1651–1732). Marsyas, ca. 1680–85. Marble on a black marble socle inlaid with light marble panels. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund and Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 2002 (2002.468). 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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Narrator: This bust depicts Marsyas, the figure from Greek mythology who challenged Apollo to a musical contest.

Wolfram Koeppe: The price of winning the contest was that the winner could punish his opponent in every way he wishes to do. And Apollo chose one of the most cruel ways we can imagine, and that is that Marsyas would be flayed alive. The ears are characterized down to the little detail with the ear opening. He still can hear. He still can recognize what is going on around him. But he can't answer any longer. He can't communicate any longer. And he can express what he feels only through his face and his desperation.

Narrator: Take a close look at the figure's cloak—or what appears to be his cloak.

Wolfram Koeppe: What looks like a textile drapery is, in fact, the skin coming down from the upper part of the breast. When you walk around the sculpture, you see that it goes like a frame around the upper part and then ends in a monster-like head, which surely is a symbol for the underworld.

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