The Barberini Faun: unashamedly sensual, sexual, provocative, tantalizing and inviting

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I shall begin by trying to answer the question “Who is the Barberini Faun”? And I will do so by breaking it up in two pieces.

Pope Urban VIII, by Pietro da Cortona
Pope Urban VIII, by Pietro da Cortona

Who was Cardinal Francesco Barberini?

Maffeo Barberini  was a Florentine nobleman, who became Pope Urban VIII at the age of 56.

A patron of the arts, he commissioned many works to Bernini.

His nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini owned the statue that is the topic of this post.

Castel Sant' Angelo, Rome
Castel Sant’ Angelo, Rome

What is a Faun?

According to Wikipedia, the Faun is a rustic forest god or goddess, often associated with enchanted woods and the Greek god Pan and his satyrs.

The Wesleyan University webpage informs us that a Faun is the Roman equivalent of a Greek satyr. In Greek mythology, satyrs were human-like male woodland creatures with animal features including a goat-like tail, hooves, ears, or horns.

Cardinal Francesco Barberini, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England
Cardinal Francesco Barberini, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England

Who is the Barberini Faun?

The Barberini Faun is a Hellenistic marble statue, dated 3rd century BC.

The statue was sold to King Ludwig of Bavaria at the beginning of the 19th century and was placed in the Gluptothek, the museum that was created in order to house King Ludwig’s sculpture collection. The Barberini Faun is the first major sculpture you see when you visit the Munich Glyptothek. In what follows, I will try to express what I saw in this sculpture.

King Ludwig of Bavaria, Walhalla
King Ludwig of Bavaria, Walhalla

So, what is this all about?

From a distance, it looks like a young man who has fallen asleep in a rather relaxed position. His legs are spread apart, his genitals are in full view, and he does not appear to give a damn, because he is exhausted.

Barberini Faun, Glyptothek, Munich
Barberini Faun, Glyptothek, Munich

A faun asleep

The unknown sculptor scores big right from the beginning. A faun is supposed to be going all over, full of energy, seeking pleasure in all forms. But this one is asleep!

Barberini Faun - detail. Glyptothek, Munich
Barberini Faun – detail. Glyptothek, Munich

Or appears to be.

If we look more carefully, the body is not fully relaxed and loose.

Barberini Faun - detail. Glyptothek, Munich
Barberini Faun – detail. Glyptothek, Munich

Look at these latissimus dorsi muscles!

How could anyone be asleep and at the same time flex his muscles?

I therefore claim that the faun is not asleep, he is half-asleep. The word “half” is important, as in my view it denotes the boundary condition that defines the sculpture.  Having said that, it is better to say that the faun is on the boundary between being awake and asleep.

barberini_faun4
Barberini Faun – detail. Glyptothek, Munich

Is it a faun?

We usually take for granted that a faun is a faun, and do not seek any proof. In this case, there is proof, although the spectator needs to discover it. Yet again, the sculptor makes things interesting and exciting. From a distance there is no indication of the faun being a faun. He could be any young man. But as you close in, you realize that there is a tiny tail sticking out of his back. The faun is a faun!

Barberini Faun - detail. Glyptothek, Munich
Barberini Faun – detail. Glyptothek, Munich

The face

One of the “boundary conditions” of this sculpture is the face of the faun.

Michelangelo: Bacchus, detail, Museo del Bargello, Firenze
Michelangelo: Bacchus, detail, Museo del Bargello, Firenze

If we look at the face of Michelangelo’s David in Bargello, we see a soft, almost feminine face.

In contrast to this, the faun is masculine and rough.

The beauty of masculinity in Hellenistic times does not require to dress it with a feminine touch.

AV001628
Michelangelo, David. Academia, Firenze.

The age

Another interesting feature of the faun is that the man is not very young, or mature.

He is a young man at the height of his youth. Contrast this with Michelangelo’s David in Florence.

Barberini Faun - detail. Glyptothek, Munich
Barberini Faun – detail. Glyptothek, Munich

Another interesting contrast is with Rodin’s St. John.

A mature man, a body full of masculinity, but no sensuality.

Auguste Rodin, St. John the Baptist, Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Auguste Rodin, St. John the Baptist, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Rodin seems to be so much preoccupied with the perfection of the muscle complex that he sanitizes the body, and makes it a spectacle, but not an object of desire.

The Sensual Body

The faun is a sensual being.

His body radiates raw sensuality, and dominates everything else.

In a way the sculpture is an exploration of male and human sensuality, as it emanates from the body.

Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Talking.
Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer Talking.

I would also like to point out that the artist does not need to disfigure the body in order to appreciate it, like Francis Bacon did.

Bacon needs to destroy the body in order to enjoy and appreciate it.

barberini_faun9

The body is the undisputed protagonist of the Barberini Faun sculpture, and it does not need to be softened by the face, and/or the age, the instruments which the Renaissance artists used to express themselves, and the post impressionist giants deployed in their attempt to master the subject.

The predominance of the body of the Barberini Faun, makes it totally unnecessary to pay any particular attention to the genitals. as a spectator, you get the whole package, not just a part of it.

A Hellenistic Porno?

Is the Barberini Faun a pornographic sculpture?

I do no think so. On the contrary, I could argue that it is a naturalistic sculpture. If you like male bodies, you like it. If not, you like it because it gives you an appreciation of the whole body, every inch of it.

Pornography is fragmentation and disassociation. A situation where the parts do not belong anywhere, where the parts are the whole thing.