Roman replica of a statue by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles
ca. 340/320 BC
Height 73 cm
Greek gods are accompanied by fabulous creatures who enrich the narrative space that develops and embellishes their powers. Thus, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, sends forth her winged Erotes to awaken love in human beings. By contrast, Dionysos, the god of wine and the theatre, is surrounded by satyrs and maenads in a state of ecstatic frenzy. In their intoxicated state, the lustful fellows—half men, half he-goats—pursue the raving women but are rejected time and again.
The importance of the satyrs in ancient Athens is evident in the fact that a typical afternoon at the theatre consisted of three tragedies followed by a satyr play. Actors in makeshift satyr costumes—loincloths made of animal hide—shamelessly caricatured the great gods and heroes (hence the word “satire”).
The Frankfurt fragment is of very high quality. It shows the beautiful swing of the young satyr’s hips as it leans against a tree. The skin of its belly is sculpted with especial delicacy. Praxiteles, who executed this piece, is regarded the most important sculptor of the end of the Greek classical period (ca. 340 BC).
The evocative motif of a young body in a relaxed and casual stance was a popular one in antiquity, and frequently repeated. Our fragment probably formed part of the extraordinarily rich furnishings of the emperor’s country palace, the so-called Villa Hadriana near Tivoli. Inspired by the emperor Hadrian with his enthusiasm for Greece (this explains the excellent artistic execution of the work), ancient culture enjoyed a new flowering here as well as in many other locations.