Satyr and Satyress, c. 1510-20, Bronze,
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
They are mythological figures, followers of the Greek god Dionysos, known for their reveling and wantonness. Yet here, they look longingly at each other, more love than passion. Their lips are puckered for a kiss; their cheeks puffed up. Her right thigh, slung over his left, exposes her labia majora swollen with excitement, the deep cleavage of her sex, and perfectly coiffed pubes. She is a big breasted, large-handed female with an elaborate hair style and head piece. He and she have pointy ears, goat-like hairy lower limbs and hooves that befit a satyr and satyress. His large right hand, about to caress her face, approaches her chin. Such a chin-chuck gesture along with the slung-leg motif was identified by the distinguished art historian Leo Steinberg as deriving from antiquity: the former expressing affection, sacred or profane while the latter communicating erotic love. Meanings of which would have been obvious to the learned scholars of Padua. It’s love not just sex! The artist, Andrea Riccio, modeled the figures in wax, the facial expressions are formed as if he squeezed the figure’s cheeks between his index finger and thumb, details are delineated with sharp, pointed instruments and the metal enlivened with hammer strokes. As this work was most probably meant for a shelf in a scholar’s studio, with the figure’s legs dangling off the ledge, the explicit sexuality could not be denied. Here it is for contemplation – eroticism in the intellectual sphere. Eros is in power. See them in the exhibition Andrea Riccio: Renaissance Master of Bronze at The Frick Collection. More on this exhibit to come.