Faun and Faunesse
Attributing this group of bronze to a defined artist was a mistake. Today this couple of lustful satyrs must be given to the renowned Paduan bronzesmith, Andrea Riccio. Irrefutable marks of the artist’s style are indeed found in the slightly arched bust and the shoulders held in front of the satyr, its aquiline profile, its thick neck, its round head, and, from a technical point of view, in the hammering with a fine awl of all the parts of the body. In this last detail, the proof must be seen that it was the master sculptor himself who signed the work, giving it the finishing touch.
The raison d’être of the depiction of this embrace remains, however, relatively unexplained. Though such an erotic subject is not rare in the graphic arts, it can be affirmed that Riccio’s group is not only unique in his work, but also in the sculpture of his time. Of course, the tastes of the sculptor must be taken into account, trained in the wake of Mantegna, for bawdy and fantastic Antiquity, tinged with beautiful elegance. Nevertheless, for such a bronze sculpture to be designed, it had to be ordered by a collector passionate about Antiquity and scenes like this. Perhaps it was a lover of Greek ceramics, recollecting such subjects in vase paintings. However, the choice of the different position of the satyrs inevitably makes one thing of an engraving following the Modi, completed by Marcantonio Raimondi in 1524, based on a drawing by Giulio Romano, and which was met with great success after its publication. Given that Riccio was to die in 1532, this must be seen as a work of the last part of his life.
It should be pointed out that the satyr couple has gone through the centuries in a unique way. Acquired by the Museum of Cluny in 1858 by Edmond du Sommerard, the statuette that had been relegated to the Museum reserves for a long time was, at the time, a group of three satyrs, two fauns leaning over with an incomprehensible attitude around a female faun sitting on a chair. It was then studied by Bertrand Jestaz. He noticed that one of the fauns did not belong to the whole, its patina being very distinct. The whole thing then had to be dismantled and put back together with the faun on the right and the female faun in a lewd position that seemed to be exact for their shapes. The second male faun (today conserved at Écouen as well) proved to be a piece of a different alloy, probably originating from Riccio’s workshop, without necessarily being signed, and added later on.