I’m Sarah, a careers for all placement volunteer with an interest in classical mythology and archaeology. I have been looking at a roman sculptural fragment from the Leeds Museums & Galleries collection, on display at Leeds Discovery Centre.
Fauns and Satyrs
Satyrs and Fauns were male nature spirits, in ancient Greek and Roman mythology respectively. Satyrs were originally depicted as unattractive with horse-like attributes such as ears and tails, but later as they became more closely related to the god Pan they gained a more goat like appearance. They were followers of Dionysus, a god of winemaking, ecstasy, and fertility, and so satyrs have an association with wine, debauchery, and sexual conquest as well as mischief-making and a degree of hidden knowledge. Fauns, however, were mainly depicted with a human upper half, aside from their horns and pointed ears, and a goat’s lower half, making them nimble dancers. They are often seen as more attractive than Satyrs, less crafty and more light-hearted, with a love of music. This has been carried through to the modern day with, for example, Mr Tumnus in C S Lewis’ Narnia books, who is a gentle character who plays a flute.
Faunus was a rural deity in ancient Roman mythology, originally associated more with agriculture. He became primarily a woodland or forest deity, although he had some connection to prophesy. Although often equated with the Greek god Pan, the author of the epic poem The Aeneid, Virgil, mentions them both separately, with Faunus being a King of the Latins and a grandson of the god Saturn. His appearance, especially later, is often depicted similarly to Pan; horned with wild hair, and goat’s features. He had a major shrine on the Tiber Island in Rome, but on his festivals, Faunalia, held in the winter many farmers or ordinary folk world include sacrifices of goats and wine as well as dancing and celebration, asking him to watch over flocks and protect then in the cold months.
Classical Marbles and Perception
There is an unfortunate perception of the classical world, both Greek and Roman, as clean and white in its sculpture and architectural embellishments. Research has shown that although the much of the original paint and colours have disappeared by the point of excavation, many classical statues would not have been plain stone. Possibly the most well-known project surrounds the statue of Augustus at Prima Porta, which was excavated in the 1860s and showed traces of colour, since lost in the intervening years. Over the last 20 years the remaining paint fragments have been analysed and multiple reconstructions have been proposed. One by the Vatican in 2004 has bright block colours on the hair, clothes, armour, and other details, whereas some later reconstructions have subtler ranges of colour and are more detailed, drawing style inspiration from other roman art sources such as wall paintings.
However, this public perception is also likely in part the result of museum collections containing a lot of pale marble, in some cases whole rooms only displaying classical statues, ending up divorced from their original contexts. These artefacts are as they have been found, now devoid of colour, but some museums have been trying to showcase an alternate, or more authentic, classical world. This may include starting to display a coloured copy or image alongside the original to give an idea of how artefacts may have looked, and the Great North Museum in Newcastle’s Roman Britain in Colour display has seven Roman altars reimagined by projecting colours onto them.
This idea of whiteness has unfortunately carried over to popular media (for example the Roman inspired statues at Pemberley in 2005s Pride and Prejudice), then into other areas such as the dark academia aesthetic with its tweed jackets, old books and marble busts. This has given the impression to many that monochrome is the original condition for classical sculpture, however this has proven not to be true. We can never be sure exactly what these statues originally looked like, but we need to move past the misconception of everything being white.
The Lanuvium Sculpture Fragment
But how are these related?
This is a sculpture from a relief found during Lord Savile’s excavations at the roman town of Lanuvium, called Lanuvio today, in the 1880s while he was British Ambassador to Italy. This town lies just off the Via Appia (the major highway of the period) around 25 miles south of Rome and was populated likely from the ninth century BC onwards. By the second century BC it had a massive temple to Juno Sospita, the ‘saviour’ or sometimes protector of those in confinement including pregnant women, which dominated the landscape from its position on the hilltop acropolis.
This head fragment one of several sculptures from the site now in the museum collection, and is thought to be a faun or satyr. Possibly even Faunus himself due to similarities to one of the silver vessels from Hildesheim depicting him. Heads such as these are common on the lids of sarcophagi and in decorative friezes, but this is in a finer style than the average. There is some connection between the two deities of Juno and Faunus as both are associated with goats, a symbol of fertility. They also appear together in one of the roman poet Ovid’s works, Fasti, as they share festivals in the first half of February.
There is a similar sculpture in the Ancient Wolds gallery in the Leeds City Museum, this time the face from the front, which is labelled as ‘Head of Pan’, showing that is hard to definitively identify who these sculptures are, especially if one is particularly influential over the other. So, as with most archaeological finds, questions remain about this fragment. Who was this figure meant to represent? What was the figure from; a larger relief on a wall, sarcophagi, something else? What other figures were present? Why was it carved so finely? Was it painted? If so what colours?
Will we ever know?
By Sarah Barrett, Careers for All placement student