The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Laughing Faun
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • , restoration of an antique original
  • Laughing Faun
  • Italy
  • c.1630
  • Head
  • Red marble, with surface coating (head), alabastro fiorito marble (pedestal), mastic (repairs).
  • Height: 35.6 cm
    Width: 19.1 cm
    Height: 45.9 cm, with socle
  • S11
  • Porphyry Court
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Other examples of antique faun heads presenting similar characteristics, in the general shape of the hair, the small horns and the expression, are known and survive in various museums. Particularly relevant in our case is the use of expensive rosso antico (red) marble, as this material had strong associations with power and status in imperial Rome.
    Although in essence it refers to a Hellenistic prototype of laughing faun, S11 was heavily restored in the 17th century and probably as a result its character is very different from that of the other surviving antique examples, particularly in the livelier treatment of the beard and the hair. CT scans of the head have revealed that it is made of various fragments joined together and has numerous repairs.

    S 11 was purchased in the early 1630s in Rome by two dealers, Mario and Pompeo Frangipane, for Armand Jean Du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu, (1585-1642), for whom the brothers were at the time putting together a collection of antiquities. This collection was documented in a series of drawings made by Giovanni Angelo Canini (1615-1666) and today at the Louvre. The album includes 122 drawings, although we know that even more artworks were actually delivered to the Cardinal in 1634, thereby making this one of the most substantial acquisitions of antiquities of the whole century. S11 can be easily recognised in a page with the only other sculpture made of coloured marble of the entire collection, a head of Venus in black porphyry.

    Restoration of damaged or fragmentary antiquities was common practice at the time. It is possible that the restoration was carried out by the young Alessandro Algardi (1595-1654) who, according to his biographer Bellori (1613-1696), in his early years in Rome worked regularly on antique sculpture and is known to have restored some that the Frangipani brothers then sent to France. Another possible candidate would be Orfeo Boselli (c.1600-1667), famous for his work as a restorer of antiquities and also documented as working for the Frangipani.