Reclining Pan in the St. Louis Art Museum

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  • Topic: Guan Yin, Buddhism, Mahayana
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  • Published : August 13, 2010
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"Reclining Pan in the St. Louis Art Museum"

Reclining Pan (St. Louis Art Museum, 138:1947) also known as Drunken Satyr, a marble sculpture modeled by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli in early 16th century, is portraying Pan, the god of the woods, fields, and flocks in the reclining position. The sculpture was owned by the powerful Barberini Family in Rome, then purchase by St. Louis Art Museum in1947.1

Reclining Pan at the St. Louis Art Museum under discussion presents a commanding image of the satyr/god Pan, measuring approximately 2 feet tall and 4.5 feet long. Pan appears to have fallen asleep in a drunken stupor since he lies upon a wineskin amid four bunches of grapes that adorn his rocky bed. His left arm encircles his head, a gesture evocative of sleep, and his muscular right arm falls to the side, still clutching the syrinx or reed pipes he fashioned in frustration at his failure to win the nymph syrinx. He opens his mouth in a wide grimace, allowing his tongue to protrude slightly and thus animating his expression to connote the beginning stages of his transition from slumber to wakefulness. The nebris he wears around his neck has been knotted on the his chest, its colored hooves resembling less an animal torso than some sort of decorative fashion accessory. His furry legs splay open, revealing a rather odd and unexpected bit of prudishness since his penis, an important attribute of Pan who is renowned for his sexual exploits, has been hidden by draped fabric that also separates his torso form the underlying stone platform. The aforementioned grape clusters, the woody truck of a grapevine, and single grape leaf embellish his stone perch while a salamander slithers in the crevices that have been cut into the marble.2

Pan is the son of Hermes and the nymph Dryope. He is not completely human in form, but part man and part goat. He has the ears, horns and legs of a goat. His lovers included Echo, Selene, Cyparissus, Daphnis, and Olympus. Pan is a god of creativity, music, poetry, sensuality and sexuality, or panic and nightmares, who haunts forests, caverns, mountains, brooks and streams. His favourite time is noon when he seduces young men while teaching them to play the syrinx, or pan-pipes. These are named after a nymph that pan desired. Syrinx was devoted to Artemis and fled from Pan's advances. As she did, she transformed into a bed of marsh reeds. When the wind blew through these they made a sad but beautiful sound and pan was inspired to cut two of the reeds, fasten them together to make a pipe that he could play. Pan represents unbridled male sexuality, and is the equivalent of of a greek "green man". He is also (along with Herm the Hunter) an early model for the images of the Christian Devil. As a phallic figure it's easy to see why.

Guanyin's origin is debated among scholars. The root of this debate lies in the history of religion in China. China's indigenous religion is Taoism. It is possible that Guanshi'yin originated as a Taoist deity, the Queen Mother of the West. With the introduction of Mahayana Buddhism to China in around the fourth to fifth centuries AD, Taoism and Buddhism became religious rivals in China. The Buddhist tactic was to change, and even supplant, indigenous Taoist deities in favor of Buddhist deities. Over the centuries, this trend has had the effect that it is now virtually impossible to determine Guanyin's true origin. The official Buddhist view is that Guanyin originated with the male Avalokiteśvara, though Guanyin's origin may be more complex than this simple, linear derivation. While it is certain that the name "Guanshi'yin" is derived from the name "Avalokitesvara".5 According to Mahayana doctrine, Avalokitesvara is the bodhisattvas who has made a great vow to listen to the prayers of all sentient beings in times of difficulty, and to postpone his own Buddha hood until he has assisted every being on Earth in achieving nirvana. Mahayana sutras associated with Avalokiteśvara...
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