Estasi antiche e moderne

Giuseppe Pucci


In 1998, parts of an ancient bronze statue representing an over-lifesize Dancing Satyr were recovered off the southwestern coast of Sicily by fishermen from Mazara del Vallo. Some scholars date this statue to the 4th century BCE and believe it to be an original work by Praxiteles; others date it to the late Hellenistic period, or even to the second century CE. The satyr is whirling in a frenzied, Dionysian dance. His arms are out-stretched, his back arched, his head thrown back, his hair swinging with the movement. His whole posture and countenance show that he is experiencing ecstasy, and indeed comparisons with other classical monuments prove that such an iconographic scheme is the codified visual formula of ecstasy. It is easy to recognize this as a typical Warburgian Pathosformel. This paper thus explores its survival in modern art, from the Renaissance to contemporary advertising graphic. However, like all Warburg's pathosformeln, even this one has both a positive and a negative valency. The same formula may be used to express the extremes of either pleasure or agony. It applies to characters that succumb to an overwhelming power that annihilates their will and transfers them into a fathomless otherness.

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