Ancient Sculpture? Or Renaissance Imitation?

In one of Rome’s numerous museums of ancient sculpture, you can find this unusual IMG_5149bust of a Satyr. Carved in gray bigio marble, it is remarkably life-like, in great part because the eyes are formed of inlaid marble of a different color.

But who sculpted it, and when? That is surprisingly unclear.

Some tour-books and art historians will tell you that it is an ancient Roman work, that was “restored” by the great Gianlorenzo Bernini. And that is entirely possible: when he wasn’t designing St. Peter’s Square, or casting the bronze canopy over the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, Bernini spent plenty of his time indulging the tastes of upper-class Romans–and that sometimes meant that he “fixed” an ancient, broken statue for them.

Yet in this particular case, it’s difficult to determine what is original, and what is “fixed.” This leads some to wonder whether Bernini may have carved the entire bust himself–and then passed it off as an “ancient” sculpture. Before you laugh that off, be aware that Renaissance artists did indeed tend to amuse themselves in this way! Michelangelo, for example, once carved an image of a sleeping Cupid (now in a museum in Florence), and convinced ignorant buyers that it was an ancient statue that had been recently discovered. When you’re a bored artistic genius… this is apparently your idea of fun.

That’s why other tour-books and art historians claim that this is actually a 17th-century IMG_5150work, and the only artist involved in its creation was Bernini. That’s possible too! Bernini certainly knew how to inlay the statue’s stone eyes in the manner of the ancient Romans. Take a look at a previous post, “All Those Headless Statues,” if you’d like to read more about this practice.

The bottom line is, nobody knows for sure what the full story on this Satyr is. The one thing on which everyone can agree is that it is a magnificent work of art. We’ll be happy to take you to see it!