The Satyr Family


Albrecht Dürer ( German, 1471 - 1528 )

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General Description

In an intimate family scene, a satyr lulls his newborn child to sleep with trumpet music. Satyrs, part-human and part-goat, were popular figures during the Renaissance, as they harkened back to the classical hybrid monsters of ancient Greek and Roman art. They were companions to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, and thus creatures who loved the physical pleasures of wine, women, and wind instruments. Satyrs usually act as an oppositional force to the conventional norms of decorum in civilization. In this engraving, the satyr demonstrates his skill at playing instruments, a refined talent, but its form crudely mimics the shape of his erect phallus, emphasizing his animalistic side. Yet Albrecht Dürer also reaffirms the satyr’s humanity through the tenderness of this family scene. The idea of a Satyr playing music to his family does not follow any known literary sources. It is an original conception by the artist, undoubtedly created for a sophisticated and scholarly audience.

Adapted from

  • Laura Sevelis, DMA label copy, March 2015.

  • Carl Wuellner, DMA label copy, December 2003.

Fun Facts

  • In his 1943 foundational survey of Albrecht Dürer's oeuvre, Erwin Panofsky identified the satyr's instrument as a platterspiel, a_ _reed instrument equiped with an air reservoir like a bagpipe.

Web Resources

  • Inside Albrecht Dürer's Studio- Engraving
    Watch this demonstration and explanation of the engraving process created by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute for the exhibition, The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer (November 14, 2010- March 13, 2011).