The Torment of Marsyas – Greek sculpture


Capture d’écran 2015-03-12 à 19.36.20

© 2006 Musée du Louvre / Daniel Lebée et Carine Deambrosis

This antiquity is one of my favorite works of art! The marble, which can be found in the Louvre, is worked perfectly to play with the light and the shadow in order to make the spectator feel the pain. Even though this marble sculpture is a Roman copy, with lots of modern restorations, it gives us a really good idea of the original from the Hellenistic period (336-30 BC).

The myth of Marsyas begins with the creation of the double flute, by the goddess Athena. Having seen the swollen cheeks by playing the flute, she decides to throw it away because she doesn’t look attractive playing it. When she goes away, Marsyas arrives and collects the double flute. Then, Marsyas challenges Apollo, the god of music. Apollo plays the lyre upside down and tells Marsyas to do the same but he is not able to do it. The Muses declare Apollo victorious and he punishes Marsyas for his hubris by condemning him to be flayed alive by a Scythian slave. A number of copies of this artwork and reliefs attest to the existence of the original statuary group depicting the legend. Those allow us to reconstitute the group, compose of the slave, Marsyas and Apollo, for this sculpture.

Marsyas, as a satyr, is characterized by his pointed ears, his wild mane of hair and his tail in the low back. His wrists are attached to the trunk of a pinetree. His body is stretched. This position frees his legs, but arms, head, and trunk are submitted to a maximal constraint. The stomach is elongated and ribs sticks out. The oblique head is marked by a grin of pain. This sculpture is characteristic of the pergamene baroque, which favors the pathos, the pathetic. The sculptor chose to represent the moment just before the torture, when the satyr and the torturer exchange a last look and the tension reaches its peak. The play of light across the uneven surfaces of Marsyas’s body, distorted by pain, dramatizes the scene and creates a poignant effect. The face is a study of the deformation caused by fear. This detail is, I think, the best part of the sculpture. It is the nicest way to finish looking at it. The face talks for the whole!


© 2006 Musée du Louvre / Daniel Lebée et Carine Deambrosis



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