The god Pan pursues the virginal nymph Syrinx, who flails her arms as she teeters on the edge of the river Ladon, a frog escaping out of her path. She is moments from being transformed by river nymphs into reeds, in answer to her prayers to escape her unwanted suitor. Pan would later use these reeds to fashion his musical pipes.
The story of Pan and Syrinx is recounted by the Roman poet Ovid in Metamorphoses, a long verse narrative that retells ancient Greek and Roman legends. The figures were probably painted by the Flemish artist Hendrick van Balen the Elder and the landscape by an artist working in the style of Jan Brueghel the Elder, who specialised in painting landscapes and flowers. The composition was probably inspired by a print of the same subject by Hendrick Goltzius.
Pan, the god of fields and forests, rushes towards the virginal nymph Syrinx, who flails her arms as she teeters on the edge of the river Ladon, a frog swimming out of her path. The amorous god had pursued Syrinx across Arcadia and here, seeing her escape route blocked, tries to grab her. Hearing her prayer for help to escape her unwanted suitor, the river nymphs are about to transform her into reeds. Pan later made musical pipes out of these very reeds.
This small oil on copper painting illustrates a story from Metamorphoses, a long verse narrative retelling ancient Greek and Roman legends by the Roman poet Ovid. The figures were probably painted by the Flemish artist Hendrick van Balen the Elder, while the landscape was executed by an artist working in the style of Jan Brueghel the Elder, who specialised in painting landscapes and flowers.
The composition was probably inspired by a print of the same subject by Hendrick Goltzius, which also shows Pan clasping at Syrinx’s cloak, her figure echoing the arching shape of the tall riverbank reeds, foretelling her fate. The painting also repeats other details from the print, such as buildings in the distance and the flowering plants in front of the figures.
This picture was altered slightly at some point in its history. Someone, perhaps an earlier owner, seems to have found the depiction of Pan’s genitalia too graphic – overpaint is visible in this area, obscuring what was originally there.
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