The Striking Presence of a Roman Faun

On 04 February 2021, by Claire Papon

Will it cause panic? Things probably will not come to that, but this Roman statue of the god Pan—or a faun—should not leave art-lovers cold as marble.

Roman, 1st-2nd-century CE. Headless marble torso depicting Pan or a faun, h. 81 cm (approx. 31.9 in).
Estimate: €80,000/100,000

Nobody really knows who Pan’s parents were—Hermes, Ulysses, Penelope, Uranus, Gaia, Zeus, Callisto—nor his descendants, but we do know that he wooed many nymphs and goddesses, including Echo and Selene. Yet Pan was born with horns and goat feet, and so ugly that his mother abandoned him in Arcadia. Hermes carried him to Olympus wrapped in goatskin, where he was welcomed by all the gods. That unanimity is said to be at the origin of his name, Pan meaning "all". For some, he was half-man, half-goat, like the satyrs who accompanied him. Others described him as a handsome lad with a goat's tail. The god of shepherds and flocks, he put the Titans to flight with his fearsome voice and made musical instruments to seduce women. The word "panic" comes from his name because it inspired fear.

This marble sculpture has a striking presence due not only to its size, but also its workmanship, fine details and muscularity. The attributes of his virility may have disappeared—our Pan seems to have had an erect penis—but his silhouette is impressive, especially if we picture him at the entrance of a "sacred grove", a place of agrarian worship. Revered throughout ancient Greece, in Rome he was sometimes identified with the god Faunus, sometimes with the god of groves, Silvanus.

This torso had been in the Chateau of Boutemont, formerly the medieval fortress of Ouilly-le-Vicomte between Lisieux and Pont-l'Évêque in Normandy, which is also famous for its gardens, since the late 1970s. Along with a headless statue of Diana the huntress, a testimony to 17th-century French sculpture, both in the treatment of the marble and in the delicacy of the drape and the texture of the body surface. Certainly made from an unidentified ancient work, the goddess is recognizable because of her main attribute, the doe (€15,000/20,000).

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