Masterpiece Stories

Hey Boy, Hey Girl: Bacchus by Caravaggio

Zuzanna Stańska 9 September 2018 min Read

A youthful Bacchus, god of fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy and theatre is reclining in classical fashion with grapes and vine leaves in his hair. On a stone table in front of him, there is a bowl of fruit and a large carafe of red wine. With his left hand, he holds out to the viewer a shallow goblet of the same wine, maybe toasting and inviting the viewer to join him.

[caption id="attachment_15706" align="alignnone" width="872"]caravaggio bacchus Caravaggio, Bacchus, c. 1596, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence Caravaggio, Bacchus, c. 1596, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy[/caption] But something is not right. Comparing to ideal Renaissance depictions of Ancient gods, a red-faced Bacchus looks more like a drunk teenager waiting for the great party to begin. He doesn't look very much like a god. His fingernails are dirty and his eyes are a bit sleepy. The model's "antique" toga is recognizable as a contemporary men' s shirt pulled down over one shoulder. The dirty mattress peeking out under a none-too-clean sheet. This is one of the most human-like gods created in art history.

According to some scientists, Caravaggio delivered an accurate and precise diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) with all its neurological and psychiatric symptoms: the skin rosacea, the impaired fine and gross motor movements; the hand tremor resulted in the undulating wine inside the chalice, and the possibility exists of losing the balance of the model's right elbow and hitting the fragile carafe. The dilated blood vessels showed by the flushed face, swollen eyelids, and red hands. Pure realism!

The basket of fruit we see in front of Bacchus is sometimes interpreted as a vanitas. It was intended to remind the viewer of the fleeting nature and meaninglessness of earthly life. The basket of bruised, overripe, wormy fruits could also have a symbolic message, such as a warning of the fleetingness of youth and the eminence of death. [caption id="attachment_15708" align="aligncenter" width="977"]caravaggio bacchus Caravaggio, Bacchus, c. 1596, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (detail) Caravaggio, Bacchus, c. 1596, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (detail)[/caption] The model for Bacchus might have been Caravaggio's friend and also a painter Mario Minniti, whom he had portrayed before in Boy with a Basket of FruitThe Fortune TellerThe MusiciansBoy Bitten by a Lizard (probable), The Lute PlayerThe Calling of Saint Matthew, and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew. Maybe Caravaggio's Bacchus was just something like a prank, a 17th-century snapshot of a friend with whom the artist probably partied a lot. And drunk a lot, as Caravaggio himself was a known drunk. There is also another conception. Bacchus' offering of the wine with his left hand has led to speculation that Caravaggio used a mirror to assist himself while working from life, doing away with the need for drawing. In other words, what appears to us as the boy's left hand was actually his right. It is known from Caravaggio's early biographer, the artist Giovanni Baglione, that Caravaggio did some of his early paintings using a mirror. Bacchus was painted shortly after Caravaggio joined the household of his first important patron, Cardinal Del Monte, and reflects the humanist interests of the Cardinal's educated circle. It was not in the cardinal's collection at his death and may have been a gift to the Grand Duke in Florence. It was unknown until 1913.

Find out more:

Check out other Caravaggio's famous paintings such as Cupid as VictorSaint John the Baptist and Medusa. You can also get to know how Caravaggio died, although the answer is not easy.

[easyazon_image align="none" height="160" identifier="3836562863" locale="US" src="https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/41YJ9Tk82aL.SL160.jpg" tag="dailyartdaily-20" width="120"]  [easyazon_image align="none" height="110" identifier="B00241VL42" locale="US" src="https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/51G2ne3M0sL.SL110.jpg" tag="dailyartdaily-20" width="78"]   [easyazon_image align="none" height="110" identifier="039334343X" locale="US" src="https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/51zMZC9etbL.SL110.jpg" tag="dailyartdaily-20" width="73"]

Recommended

Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow, 1930, Kunsthaus Zürich, Switzerland. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: Piet Mondrian, Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow

Composition with Red, Blue and Yellow is a golden example of Abstraction, De Stijl, and Constructivism. It purges the art of individual subjects by...

James W Singer 17 January 2022

Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, ca 1766-1833, lacquered gilt wood, Vietnam, Musée Guimet, Paris, France. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Stories: Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara

Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara was donated to the Musée Guimet in 1889 by French archeologist Gustave Dumoutier. It represents the blissful blending of...

James W Singer 3 January 2022

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Peasant Wedding, 1567 Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: The Peasant Wedding by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Kunsthistorisches Museum, meaning the Museum of Art History, is located in Vienna, Austria. It is the largest art gallery in the country, housing...

Anastasia Manioudaki 19 December 2021

Kūka’ilimoku, ca 1795-1822, ʻŌhiʻa lehua Wood, Kawaihae, Hawai’i, British Museum, London, UK. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Stories: Kūka’ilimoku

Kūka’ilimoku is a masterpiece of Hawaiian art. It is an artistic icon of Hawai’i, Polynesia, and Oceania. With so little Oceanic art displayed...

James W Singer 9 December 2021