The picture was created in 1840, when Taras Shevchenko studied at the Imperial Art Academy. The first time this exact work was mentioned in scientific research work was 1880. Back then, the artist F. P. Ponomarev, in his published memoirs, identified this work as the “Torso of St. Sebastian, taken from nature during the Art Academy’s life classes”. The new attribution of this work as a “Male model, posing as Marsyas” was suggested by N. V. Sadkova. As she put this “the model is depicted posing as the satyr Marsyas; it is also depicted with attributes that are common for portrayals of satyrs, such as a syrinx (flute), thyrsus and fur. Not only these attributes prove the theory: the artist also conveyed the mental state of a figure that is common among depictions of Marsyas in art worldwide. The etude literally follows the ancient story”.
Marsyas was challenged by Apollo to a music contest. Apollo won the competition, but King Midas voted for Marsyas as the way Marsyas played was second to none. Apollo punished both: Marsyas was flayed alive in a cave, his skin was nailed by Apollo to a pine tree and King Midas's ears were replaced with those of a donkey.
From 1840-1940, the picture had been part of F. P. Ponomarev’s collection; from 1940 on, it was included in the collection of the Russian Museum.