Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Sleeping Satyr in Munich

I've posted the photo of the Sleeping Satyr in the Munich Glyptotheck, a.k.a. the Barberini Faun, not only because it's very beautiful and one of my favorite statues. The satyr, although sleeping, has a good deal to tell us.

The statue is a Hellenistic work of about the III century b.c.e., or a Roman copy of a few hundred years later. It lives in Munich, but has a near twin in the Louvre in Paris. It is one of the oldest examples, and argueably the most beautiful, of homoerotic art we have. Its homoeroticism, frankly, can't be denied. It has also be the object of wonder and admiration, however, not only of gays, but also of straights, men, women, and even grandmothers. (What's the satyr doing right that we're not doing, guys?)

In fact, if the satyr is being slighted by any segment of the public, its the gay community. The gay sculptural icon of choice is undoubtedly Michelangelo's David, whose plaster copy appears in almost every non- leather gay bar or bath in the western world. The Barberini Faun is practically unknown in the gay community except for people specifically interested in ancient art. Why is, in fact, this major monument of homoerotic art largely ignored by the gay community? Why, in fact, has the gay community preferred the David, which, while undoubtedly very beautiful, is also clearly not nearly as sexually overt and homoerotic as the faun?

I would submit that the Sleeping Satyr, although it expressed the values and tastes to which many of us gay men aspire, is still expressive of a world that is, unfortunately, quite alien to us. It was a world that was much more comfortable with male/ male sexual and emotional relationships than we are even in the liberated XXI century. Emperors, such as Alexander and Hadrian were openly in love with, and sexually enjoyed, men. Statues such as the Sleeping Satyr probably originally adorned public baths, where homoerotic feelings were clearly but discretely expressed.

The Greco- Roman world was not just more accepting of male/ male sexual attraction; it had a more comfortable attitude toward the body in general. Roman patricians had sculptural portraits made of themselves that eternalized them with their pimples and paunches. There was a deep acceptance of, and even joy in the physical nature of being. This comfort with the body is something that we seem to have lost, perhaps irretrivably, with the dominance of monotheism and transcendental religion in the western world. (The East Asians don't seem ever to have had it, either--- for their own reasons. The frank sensuality of much of Indian art, however, seems to suggest other possibilities. Native tendencies or Hellenistic influence?)

It's not hard to see how the David is much more attened to our modern, much more limited and, frankly, repressed sensibilities. In comparason to the Sleeping Satyr, the David is much tamer, almost abstract. It is more the idea of a beautiful man than an attempt to replicate one in stone. I have never wanted to touch Michaelangelo's statue; in Munich, with the satyr, I have to restrain myself from breaking museum rules and setting off alarms.

Well, one could object, how about that other gay art icon, Caravaggio? His boys and men are delicious and quite clearly sexy. I would counter that in Caravaggio there is always a hint of prurience, something just a bit kinky. Unlike the faun, who exists in a world relatively comfortable with its sexuality and attitudes towards the physical aspects of human existence, Caravaggio actually exploits our discomfort with these issues. Caravaggio does not counter, but rather actually proves my point.

Perhaps the closest we come to the comfort with sexuality conveyed by the faun is the artist who did the restorations on the statue, Bernini. Bernini was, as far as I know, 100% hetero, and his work has very little, if any, homoerotic content. But we can't discuss the topic of art and sensuality without mentioning the artist who gave us what is most likely the world's first (an perhaps still the best) representation of orgasm, "The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa." But although Bernini lacks the sense of outrageousness and prurience we sense in Caravaggio, sensuality for him is still something exceptional and extraordinary, even miraculous, something quite divorced from our everyday experience. The faun is presented to us as something we could reasonably expect to find (if we are lucky and believe in Greco- Roman mythology) while walking through the woods. Not even the most dedicated Catholic could expect to happen upon St. Theresa levitating in her cell. Her orgasm isn't something for all of us; it is a miracle.

So, we are left with our faun, in his comfortable, sensual, harmonious maleness. Sadly, we probably can't really approach his ease in what he is, despite gay liberation and the sexual revolution. But he does set some very worthwile goals and objectives. And just maybe, like the faun, we would be looked upon by other segments of society with wonder and delight, if we were more comfortable in our own skins.


Blogger The_Gay_Dude said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Tony said...

A very goor and really informative post Bruce. But I am an art lover anyway! And I so love European art!

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The copy of this (Edme Bouchardon, 1726-1730, Faune endormi ) in the Louvre is I think much better. The pose is more natural, the right leg less cramped. (
You might also like to look at the Dying Gaul at the Capitoline Museum in Rome - I haven't seen a good picture on the net but this is not bad

7:05 AM  
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11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I agree with your description I think it's simpler than that. Ambercrombie and Fitch lead way here. David is a popular and safe icon to worship. You can also get little Davids anywhere. Find a bernini's faun for under thousands...not so much.
Daniel Kaufman

8:29 AM  
Anonymous The Faun said...

Thanks for a beautifully written blog. I am a living sculpture of a faun and loved your analysis of what I see as my archetypal existence.
much love
follow the faun...

10:35 AM  

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