A plaquette representing Pan pursuing Syrinx

(Signed) Paulus van Vianen, Prague, 1613 | medium: led

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A plaquette representing Pan pursuing Syrinx

The scene represented is based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, I, 689-713 which tells the story of the nymph Syrinx changing into a reed; while fleeing from Pan Syrinx is changed into reed by her sisters, the Naiads. To the left we see Syrinx running away from Pan towards the river Ladon, which she could not cross. Her hands are already turning into rushes of reed. The scene is being watched by a river god.

Paulus van Vianen designed the present scene at the peak of his career for a silver plaque, that is interesting to compare to our plaquette. In 1603 he had entered the court of the Austrian archduke and Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II von Habsburg in Prague (reign 1576-1612) where he was appointed as Kammergoldsmied, a position he held for the remainder of his life. Two years prior to moving to the imperial court Van Vianen had worked in Salzburg at the court of the archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Reitenau. During these years the representation of landscape became a main source of inspiration. This is evident when looking at the idealised figures based on mythological characters and placed in realistic landscapes, as is done in the present plaquette. In the posture of the bodies Van Vianen varied as much as he possibly could, to demonstrate his virtuoso craftmanship.

In classical Greek mythology, Syrinx (Greek Σύριγξ) was a nymph and a follower of Artemis, known for her chastity. Pursued by the amorous god Pan, she ran to a river’s edge and asked for assistance from the river nymphs. In answer, she was transformed into hollow water reeds that made a haunting sound when the god’s frustrated breath blew across them. Pan cut the reeds to fashion the first set of panpipes, which were thenceforth known as syrinx. The word syringe was derived from this word.

Ovid includes the story of Pan and Syrinx in Book One of the Metamorphoses, where it is told by Mercury to Argus in the course of lulling him asleep in order to kill him.

The story is also told in Achilles Tatius’ Leukippe and Kleitophon where the heroine is subjected to a virginity test by entering a cave where Pan has left syrinx pipes that will sound a melody if she passes.

©Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the plaque in silver, by Paulus van Vianen, Prague, 1603, inv. n° BK-1957-34

Private collection, Germany before 2011, Blumka gallery 2011, Private collection, The Netherlands

(Signed) Paulus van Vianen, Prague, 1613
medium: led

8,3 cm high x 11,2 wide

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