Lot 29
  • 29

A Marble Group of Three Satyrs Fighting a Serpent, Roman Imperial, circa 1st Century A.D.

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • A Marble Group of Three Satyrs Fighting a Serpent
  • Marble
  • 25 1/4 by 31 1/2 in. 64.1 by 80 cm.
carved on a rectangular base, the central figure almost fallen and already expiring, the two other figures kneeling face to face and struggling with the giant beast, the one at left with an animal skin wrapped around his raised left arm, the other with a goat skin skin tied around his neck.


excavated in early 1489 on the grounds of the Monastery of S. Lorenzo in Panisperna in Rome
Giovanni Ciampolini (d. 1505), Rome
Lorenzo de' Medici, il Magnifico (1449-1492), Florence, acquired from the above in February of 1489
private collection, Split, Dalmatia, mid 19th century
Aloys Maximilian Neumann (1829-1906), Graz, acquired from the above circa 1857
by descent to the present owners


Johann Wilhelm Gaye, ed., Carteggio inedito d'artisti dei secoli XIV, XV, XVI, Florence, 1839, p. 285, Doc. CXXIV
Eugène Müntz, Les collections des Médicis au XVe siècle, Paris, 1888, p. 57
Fritz Weege, "Das Goldene Haus des Nero. Neue Funde und Forschungen," in Jahrbuch des Institutes, vol. XXVIII, 1913, pp. 232-233
Arnold Schober, "Eine neue Satyrgruppe," Mitteilungen des deutschen archaologischen Instituts, Romische Abteilung, vol. 52, 1937, pp. 83ff, pls. 23-26
American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 52, 1948, p. 423
Gerhard Kleiner, Die Begegnungen Michelangelos mit der Antike, 1950, p. 54, note 23
Georg Lippold, Griechische Plastik, Munich, 1950, p. 354, 7
Michel Abramic, "Antike Kopien griechischer Skulpturen in Dalmatien," in Festschrift für Rudolf Egger: Beiträge zur älteren europäischen Kulturgeschichte, vol. 1, Klagenfurt, 1952, p. 312
Marcello del Piazzo, ed., Protocolli del carteggio di Lorenzo il Magnifico per gli anni 1473-1474, 1477-1492 (Archivio di Stato di Firenze), Florence, 1956, p. 388
Margarete Bieber, The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age, New York, revised ed., 1961, pp. 148-149
Enrico Barfucci, Lorenzo de' Medici e la società artistica del suo tempo, 2nd ed., Florence, 1964, p. 278
Robert Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity, Oxford, 1969, p. 103, note 1, and p. 188, note 9
Roland Hampe, Sperlonga und Vergil, Mainz, 1972, p. 75
Philipp Ellis Foster, A Study of Lorenzo de' Medicis' Villa at Poggio a Caiano, vol. I, Doctoral dissertation ,Yale, 1978, p. 156
Joseph Alsop, The Rare Art Traditions, New York, 1982, p. 394-395
Gli Uffizi: storia e collezioni, Florence, 1983, p. 70
Luigi Beschi, "Le antichità di Lorenzo il Magnifico: caratteri e vicende," in Gli Uffizi, quatro secoli di una galleria, Atti, 1982, P. Barocchi and G. Ragionieri, eds., vol. 1, Florence, 1983, p. 168 and note 31
Laurie Fusco, "Pollaiulo's Battle of the Nudes: A Suggestion for an Ancient Source and a New Dating," Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Federico Zeri, vol. 1, Milan and Los Angeles, 1984, p. 197
Jerome J. Pollitt, Art in the Hellenistic Age, Cambridge and New York, 1986, pp. 133 and 297
R.M. Schneider, in P.C. Bol, Katalog der antiken Bildwerke (Forschungen zur Villa Albani), vol. II, 1990, p. 366, note 16
Cristina Acidini Luchinat, in `Per belleza, per studio, per piacere.' Lorenzo il Magnifico e gli spazi dell'arte, F. Borsi, ed., Florence, 1991, p. 146 and note 8, and 158
Laurie Fusco and Gino Corti, "Giovanni Ciampolini (d. 1505), a Renaissance dealer in Rome and His Collection of Antiquities," Xenia, vol. 21, 1991, pp. 9-13
Laurie Fusco and Gino Corti, "Lorenzo de' Medici's Collection of Antiquities," in Giornate Pisane. Atti del IX Congresso della F.I.E.C., 24-30 Agosto 1989, vol. II (Studi Italiani di Filologia Classica, vol. 85 [s. III, X], 1992], pp. 1116-1118
Anna Maria Massinelli and Filippo Tuena, Il Tesoro dei Medici, Novara and Fenice, 1992, p. 25
Il Giardino di San Marco: maestri e compagni del giovane Michelangelo, Paola Barocchi, ed., Florence, 1992, p. 30
Florentine drawing at the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent : papers from a colloquium held at the Villa Spelman, Elizabeth Cropper, ed., Florence, 1992, p. 170
Six Centuries of Master Prints: Treasures from Herbert Greer French Collection, Cincinnati, 1993, p. 15
Cristina Acidini Luchinat, Renaissance Florence: The Age of Lorenzo de' Medici, 1449-1492, Milan, 1993
Luigi Beschi, "Le sculture antiche di Lorenzo il Magnifico," in Lorenzo il Magnifico e il suo Mundo, Gian Carlo Garfagnini, ed., Florence, 1994, pp. 312-313, fig. 21
Shigetoshi Osano, "Due `Marsia' nel giardino di Via Larga: La ricezione del `décor' dell'antichità romana nella collezione medicea di sculture antiche," Artibus et Historiae, vol. 34, 1996, p. 107
Salvatore Settis, "Laocoonte di marmo, Laocoonte di bronzo," Il cortile delle statue: der Statuenhof des Belvedere im Vatikan, Akten, 1992, M. Winner, B. Andreae, and C. Pietroangeli, eds., Mainz, 1998, pp. 133-134
Christiane Vorster, "Die Satyriskoi im Konservatorenpalast und das Nymphäum an der porta san lorenzo," Gedenkschrift für Andreas Linfert: Hellenistische Gruppen, P.C. Bol. ed., Mainz, 1999, p. 294
Salvatore Settis, Laocoonte: Fama e Stile, Rome, 1999, pp. 20-21, figs. 18-19 (plaster cast)
Adrian Stähli, Die Verweigerung der Lüste: erotische Gruppen in der antiken Plastik, 1999, p. 104, note 133
Leonard Barkan, Unearthing the Past: Archaeology and Aesthetics in the Making of Renaissance Culture, New Haven, 1999, p. 2
Brunilde Sismondo Ridgeway, Hellenistic Sculpture: The Styles of Circa 100-31 B.C., vol. 3, Madison, Wisconsin, 2002, p. 11, note 60
Brunilde Sismondo Ridgeway, "Le Laocoon dans la sculpture antique," in E. Décultot, J. Le Rider, and F. Queyrel, eds., Le Laocoon, histoire et réception, Actes du colloque (Paris, Hôtel Dutet de Chevery, ENS and EPHE, April 29t h-30t h, 2002), Revue Germanique Internationale, no. 19, 2003, p. 30
Artibus et Historiae, vol. 52, 2004, p. 31
Francis William Kent, Lorenzo de' Medici and the Art of Magnificence, Baltimore, 2004, p. 35
Lynn Catterson, "Michelangelo's Laocoön," Artibus et Historiae, vol. 26, no. 52, 2005, p. 52
Laurie Fusco and Gino Corti, Lorenzo de' Medici: Collector and Antiquarian, Cambridge, 2006, pp. 52ff., figs. 31 and 34
Census of Antique Works of Art and Architecture Known in the Renaissance (online database), no. 161254


Formerly restored were nose and right arm of satyr at left, right hand of central satyr, and nose and left arm of satyr at right, one of their feet in back was also restored; entire surface was vigorously cleaned and gone over, especially on satyr’s hand resting on rock, original break across left arm of satyr at left is preserved, almost all edges of animal skins are chipped and their ends broken away, note weathering on entire lower half of group in front, scattered red stains appear to be from bleeding dye of wet blanket once stored with group.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

The present group is the only surviving and identifiable ancient marble sculpture in the round from Lorenzo de' Medici's collection in Florence.

In early 1489, under the cover of darkness, Roman antiquities dealer Giovanni Ciampolini excavated the present group in the gardens of the convent of S. Lorenzo in Panisperna, on the Viminal Hill in Rome. Several ancient sculptures, including the Apollo Belvedere, had already been found there recently, and further excavations had been prohibited by decree of Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, under whose jurisdiction the convent stood. As an example of poetic justice, 17 years would pass before the same prelate, now Pope Julius II, would own the very sculpture of which the present group appears to be a parody, the Laocoon itself.

Shortly after the discovery of the group, two of Lorenzo de' Medici's agents in Rome, Luigi da Barberino and banker Nofri Tornabuoni, acquired it from Ciampolini on behalf of the Magnificent. On February 13th, 1489, da Barberino wrote a letter to Lorenzo describing the group as "three beautiful fauns on a small marble base, all three bound together by a great snake... and even if one cannot hear their voices they seem to breathe, cry out, and defend themselves with wonderful gestures; that one in the middle you see almost falling down and expiring. These we have been promised and will cost 50 scudi; and the reason for the price is that he [Ciampolini] has to pay off his friend, so that he will not talk about it. When you shall see them you will not think the money sill spent" (Fusco and Corti 2006, doc. 110, p. 308). About two weeks earlier, in a letter dated January 31st, 1489, Tornabuoni had given Lorenzo a less lyrical but more more detailed description of the group complete with measurements matching those of the present sculpture: "tre... fauni in sur uno piano, chè e lungho circha a due braccia quasi, che l'uno tocha l'altro, e sono ginocchioni; el terzo è in mezzo di loro, quasi a diacere, e una serpe chombatte chon loro et àgli cinti tutti et tre. Quello di mezzo pare chaduto vinto, e diresti che lo spirito li mancha; li altri due, che sono ginochioni, chombattono chon quella serpe e fanno molte buone attitudine. Sono piccoli, perché quelli che stanno ginocchioni non sono più alti che poco più che un braccio" (Fusco and Corti 2006, doc. 109)

The satyr group left Rome for Florence on the morning of February 13th, packed in a crate and strapped to a mule, together with one of the broken arms described as "uno braccio d'epsi sinistro, involto tucto in uno panno et cincto delle serpe." (Fusco and Corti 2006, doc. 117); in his letter of January 31 st Tornabuoni had already mentioned that an arm had been retrieved, although the head of the serpent at its extremity was still missing. This arm would have belonged to the satyr kneeling on the left, since of all three missing arms, not only is his raised left arm the only one wrapped both in animal skin and snake, but it is also the only one for which the original break was preserved above the shoulder and not smoothed down for restoration. This arm is now missing, but maybe not for ever if one thinks of the raised arm of the Laocoon, which resurfaced in a Roman stone cutter's workshop almost 400 years after the discovery of the group itself.

Although no inventories exist placing the three satyrs in Lorenzo's collection in Florence between the time they were shipped to him and the year of his death in 1492, indirect evidence exist indicating that it was indeed there. Two artists belonging to the Magnificent's circle appear to have used parts of it as inspiration for their own creations: Pollaiuolo for one of the fallen figures in his engraving entitled "Battle of the Nudes," circa 1489, and Michelangelo for two figures in his Battle of the Centaurs" marble relief, circa 1490-1492 (see Fusco and Corti 2006, figs. 32-35).

Lorenzo's collection was dispersed under obscure circumstances shortly after his death, which coincided with major social and political upheaval in Florence. From then on the satyr group does not appear to be recorded in any other Italian collections of the Renaissance or Baroque eras until its reappearance, about 350 years later, in a private collection in Split on the Dalmatian coast (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire); this is where the current owners' ancestor acquired the group, mentioned it and drew it in his journal, and brought it to Graz circa 1857. Photographs of the group were published about 80 years later (Schober 1937), which is presumably when a plaster cast of the group was made for the University Museum in Graz (Settis 1999, figs. 18-19).

Ever since the 1937 publication scholars have debated whether the present group and the one described in Luigi da Barberino's letter were one and the same; confusion reached its peak when suggestions were made that the group in Graz was a modern forgery inspired by the figure of a fallen satyr fighting a giant with serpentine feet now in the Centrale Montemartini Museum in Rome (Vorster 1999 and Stähli 1999), which is clearly related typologically and iconographically but different enough that it allows the present group to stand on its own; also, it was discovered in the 1880s, later than when the present group was purchased in Graz. Laurie Fusco's masterly publication of the group in 2006, with its comprehensive appendix of primary sources reproduced in extenso, including all the letters quoted above and especially Tornabuoni's letter of January 31, finally allowed for a positive identification and resolved the issues that had been raised concerning the group's age and provenance. For other examples of fighting satyrs in similarly dramatic postures see M. Moltesen, Imperial Rome II. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, 2002, no. 96, and G.M.A. Richter, Catalogue of Greek Sculptures, Oxford, 1954, p. 108, no. 213, pl. 149d-f (in The Metropolitan Museum of Art).