Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Satyr of Caen, With Apples

 Photo: ©A.Anichkin

At first I thought it was an imp, but having examined the carving closer, I decided it's probably a satyr. It has goat's horns, traditional for satyrs, and his beard rests on a bunch of fruit, as satyrs often accompanied the god of grape harvest, wine and wine-making Dionysus who is also the god of theatre.

The wood carving hangs on an outside wall of a house in a narrow alley in Caen simply as a decoration. The dark brown of the wood looks stunning against the background of the honey-coloured wall of Caen stone.

What struck me as unusual in this image is that the fruit are definitely not grape shaped. They look more like apples – fittingly for the region of Normandy, famous for its old tradition of making cidre, pommeau and calvados, drinks based on apple juice.

Caen is a fantastic city to explore. The old capital of William the Conqueror was heavily bombed during the Battle of Normandy in 1944. Many medieval buildings were destroyed and never rebuilt, but architectural fragments can be found here and there and everywhere, inside and outside, incorporated into houses still standing today.

The flat top of the carving suggests it could have been a capital, the ornamental top of a column. It may have been inside an important house, or part of the facade decoration. There are a few surviving examples of such elaborately carved facades in Caen.

Let me know if you can further identify the image or the fruit.

Below is the ancient theatre mask of satyr to compare. (Roman artwork, 2 Century AD, photo by Jastrow)

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