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Elizabeth Bartman
Independent Scholar

Jeffrey Collins
Professor, Bard Graduate Center

“Prelude to the Afterlife of a Faun”

In December 1736 marquis Alessandro Gregorio Capponi, founding president of Rome’s Capitoline Museum, purchased a finely carved ancient torso of a young faun or satyr in red marble from an amateur excavator who claimed to have unearthed it on his property near Tivoli. Upon further investigation Capponi realized he had unwittingly received stolen goods, dashing his plans to locate the missing parts and make the completed statue a jewel of his private collection. In the event, it took nine years, papal arm-twisting, and sixty times the purchase price to transform Capponi’s torso—plus twenty-two further fragments from a rival collector—into the virtuoso ensemble unveiled for public viewing at the Capitoline in 1744. With its bleating goat, bulging basket of grapes, and other Bacchic attributes, the work seems to incarnate an eighteenth-century aesthetic and exemplify the modern manipulation of antiquity for personal, political, and artistic ends.

In fact, extensive but underutilized documentation of the acquisition by Capponi and the repairs by sculptors Clemente Bianchi and Bartolomeo Cavaceppi sheds new light on the emergence of professional restoration at the dawn of the museum age, while revealing that the Faun preserves more of its original material, form, and character than has generally been recognized. By calibrating visual, material, and archival evidence, our project offers a new model for approaching such culturally and chronologically “hybrid” works. At the same time, fresh scrutiny of the statue’s condition, form, material, style, and findspot suggests that, rather than reproducing a lost Hellenistic bronze, the Capitoline’s Red Faun was a Hadrianic creation reflecting the décor and agricultural function of the emperor’s Tiburtine villa, as well as broader ideas about the nature of imperial governance.

Tuesday, November 17, 12:15 pm

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A Zoom link will be circulated the morning of the talk.