This porphyry statue of a satyr in the service of god of wine Bacchus is enhanced with marble eyes that give him a crazed glint as he stares greedily at a bunch of grapes.
Originally portrayed by the Greeks as half-goat spirits who supported the god Dionysus – who became Bacchus in Rome – statues of satyrs (also known as fauns) became increasingly human as time went on, gaining human legs around the 6th century BCE. On this statue the only hint as to his animal origins are two skin tags on his neck, and that he’s wearing a goat skin complete with hoof.
Porphyry is prized Egyptian red marble, and was responsible for some of the most beautiful sculptures of ancient Rome, not just for its stunning coloration but also because it is very hard-wearing, so almost none of the detail of the carvings are lost over time.
To see this statue, believed to be from Hadrian’s Villa near Tivoli, north-east of Rome, you must book a private, after-hours tour of the Vatican Museums (not currently running due to the health crisis), as it’s located in the “Cabinet of the Masks”, which is not normally accessible to the general public.