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Museums and collections


Dr Susanne Turner, Curator
Museum of Classical Archaeology

I love the Barberini Faun.

There, I said it.

When I was an MA student, I wrote an essay on him; really, I suppose, it was a love letter. I had fallen for the attractions of ancient art as an undergraduate, but the Faun looks like no other piece of ancient sculpture. Certainly, you could wander around our gallery for hours and fail to find his match. In his laid-back pose with his limbs cast asunder, the Faun embodies an animality which is hard to ignore. His sleep is filled with promise; sometimes, I wager, his base is so high so that we might not be tempted to get a little too close and sit on his lap. You have to look quite hard to recognise that he’s a satyr, though, half human, half beast – walk a circuit around him and maybe you’ll notice his tail, or the horns hidden in the wreath on his head. He draws you in, makes you
work for your viewing. Hellenistic satyrs usually look chubby cheeked and ineffectual, but the faun’s face is chiseled and his bent leg – I know it’s a restoration, his foot should probably really rest in the notch further down on his craggy bed – makes him look coiled to leap up at any moment. That rock he’s lying on can’t be comfortable; that arm bent behind his head makes him look fitful. What’s he dreaming of? And what might he do if you were to wake him?

And yet, I don’t ask my visitors these questions when I do a tour. I don’t draw any attention to him, and I walk my group straight past. He’s too risky, too risqué to risk a bad reaction – which is odd, because the stories I am willing to tell about the Aphrodite of Knidos draw their own blushes. So maybe, really, I just like to keep him to myself.