Diana and a Nymph Discovered by a Satyr1622 - 1627. Oil on canvas, 144 x 163 cm.
From the 1857 Inventory of the Royal Museum through 2002, this work was listed as Diana and Endymion Discovered by a Satyr, but L. Ruiz has demonstrated that the scene is Diana and a Nymph Discovered by a Satyr, as the figure sleeping alongside Diana is female. Her body, completely covered by a bluish tunic, and her pearl necklace in no way recall Endymion’s masculine appearance. The satyr was a natural inhabitant of the woods in shady, fertile Arcadia -not so, Cupid, the frequent witness to Diana’s relation with Endymion. In this scene, night falls after a fruitful day of hunting- numerous pieces of game are stacked nearby- and Diana sleeps alongside one of the nymphs from the entourage assigned her by her father, Jupiter. This straightforward and frequently depicted episode is the subject of the present work. And even the presence of the satyr -possibly the lecherous god of the forests, Pan- comes as no surprise here, as he always hovered around the nymphs. This satyr’s expressive left hand is central to the narration, expressing his desires and his leading role in the scene. He is not only pointing at Diana, who may be the ultimate goal of this satyr’s desires, but also at the quiver, the bow and the dog- the goddess’s inseparable attributes and those that make her most feared and powerful. With the dog asleep and the weapons lying in the corner, Diana’s nudity conveys a sense of vulnerability. Both she and her companion seem accessible, and that quality is what makes this scene doubly disturbing, both because of the satyr’s presence and for the viewer, whom the satyr involves in the scene by obliging him to share the enjoyment of Diana’s sensual nudity. For the composition of this canvas, the artist drew on important Italian precedents, especially from Venice, and works by Titian and Tintoretto are always mentioned in that regard. But in his approach to a mythological subject of these characteristics, the Flemish painter must have resorted to an image oft repeated in classical iconography: the story of sleeping Ariadne discovered by Pan. That vision was certainly a part of Renaissance and Baroque artists’ imagery, especially when they addressed compositions requiring similar parameters.
At least one of the reasons for this painting’s erroneous title is the fact that such titles generally coincide with some tradition, especially in the greater part of the works that the Museo del Prado received from the Royal Collections. Here, the error began with the museum’s earliest inventories, as earlier references to it have no doubt about the mythological subject matter portrayed therein (Text drawn from Ruiz, L.: "Diana y una ninfa sorpredidos por un sátiro, y no Diana y Endimión", Boletín del Museo del Prado, XX, 38, 2002, pp. 85-89).