Artibus et Historiae no. 78 (XXXIX)

2018, ISSN 0391-9064

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MARILYN ARONBERG LAVIN - A Faun in Love: The Bernini Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (pp. 297–323)

The author of the Carrara marble group of a faun, a fig tree, three babies, and a panther in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has been variously identified – from by Pietro Bernini and Gianlorenzo together, to conceived by Pietro but carved by Gianlorenzo, to all by Gianlorenzo – and is probably a combination of all three. Its date is surely c. 1616, a time when father and son were working closely together. We know it was beloved by Gianlorenzo for he kept it throughout his adult life always visible, installed on the turning of the staircase that led from the pian terreno to the piano nobile of his house on the Via della Mercede in Rome.

The subject has just as often been debated: named il Fauno molestato dai Putti, it is cited as a teasing incident with one little boy pushing back the faun’s head and the other sticking his tongue out at him. Another, more classical interpretation of the group is as an image of Virgil’s dictum ‘Love Conquers All’. Still a third idea is that the statue was meant as a confrontation to ancient art, in the manner of Michelangelo, to show off the superior technical skill of the modern artist. My interpretation is less metaphorical, more physical than these: it depends on the observation that the obstreperous position of the faun’s raised left leg is part of a long tradition of representing extreme love making. Further, I purport that, he, the faun, is locked in a position of eternal coitus with a beguiling female spirit in the tree. For this reason I call the group ‘A Faun in Love’.

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