Peter Paul Rubens - Pan and Syrinx

by Alexandra Tuschka


Well, Pan was not known for holding back sexually! Also in this work he approaches once again - unsolicited - a nymph. This one bears the name Syrinx and, as a follower of the hunting goddess Diana (Artemis), is devoted to virginity. She wants to escape, but Pan is persistent. Syrinx asks her father, the river god Ladon, for help, who unceremoniously turns her into reeds. Pan wistfully runs his hand through the stalks. When he hears a groan, he makes the Pan flute out of the reeds, which will accompany him from then on.


This story, also recorded in Ovid's Metamorphoses, bears a strong resemblance to the story of Apollo and Daphne, in which the nymph Daphne, fleeing from Apollo, is transformed into a laurel tree by her father, a river god. The iconography of the two subjects is also similar. While Daphne is usually seen in immediate transformation, a different pictorial solution lent itself to the Pan / Syrinx group: Here the reed has already shot out of the ground and prevents any direct physical contact between the protagonists.

In this work, Pan enters the picture comparatively undynamically from the left. His muscular body and his wide-legged stance make his strength and claim to power clear. Also by positioning and coloration both persons are clearly and richly contrasted to each other. With one hand he reaches for the robe, with the other he tries to move the reed out of the way for a better view of the girl. The girl is - in typical Rubens manner - a little more obese than the contemporary ideal of beauty. With her clothes she covers her shame. This posture is probably based on the statue of Venus Pudica. The picture itself is rather small in size.


On the right is a watercourse extending to the back, which points to the father of the sitter, the river god Ladon. In comparable works, he can be in the picture and actively intervene in the action. Here, this figure is dispensed with and the intimacy of the scene is reinforced. The entire painting is enlivened by a variety of different flowers. The narcissus in front is very present and could aim at another transformation that takes place in the metamorphoses: Narcissus, who died on a shore, transformed into a daffodil after his death. Was it possibly at this place?


Peter Paul Rubens - Pan and Syrinx

Oil on canvas, 1617 - 1619, 40 × 61 cm, Museumslandschaft Hessen in Kassel, Germany

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