|Type||oil on canvas|
|Dimensions||95 cm × 85 cm (37 in × 33 in)|
The painting shows a youthful Bacchus reclining in classical fashion with grapes and vine leaves in his hair, fingering the drawstring of his loosely-draped robe. On a stone table in front of him 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, apparently inviting the viewer to join him.
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. When it was found in a storeroom of the Uffizi Galleries, it had never been catalogued or framed.
Whether intentional or not, there is humour in this painting. The pink-faced Bacchus is an accurate portrayal of a half-drunk teenager dressed in a sheet and leaning on a mattress in the Cardinal's Rome palazzo, but far less convincing as a Graeco-Roman god. The fruit and the carafe have attracted more scholarly attention than Bacchus himself. The fruit, because of the inedible condition of most of the items, is believed by the more serious-minded critics to signify the transience of worldly things. The carafe, because after the painting was cleaned, a tiny portrait of the artist working at his easel was discovered in the reflection on the glass. A reflection of Bacchus' face can also be seen on the surface of the wine in the glass he is holding.
Bacchus' offering of the wine with his left hand, despite the obvious effort this is causing the model, 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. This would accord with the comment by Caravaggio's early biographer, the artist Giovanni Baglione, that Caravaggio did some early paintings using a mirror. English artist David Hockney made Caravaggio's working methods a central feature of his thesis (known as the Hockney-Falco thesis) that Renaissance and later artists used some form of camera lucida. The model for Bacchus might have been Caravaggio's friend Mario Minniti, whom he had used before in The Musicians.
- Bacchus Analysis & Critical Reception
- Discussion of Hockney's Secret Knowledge (his suggestion that the Old Masters used optical devices) and Caravaggio
- Iconographic Themes in Art: Bacchus | Dionysos
- High resolution preview (Italian)
- This painting of Bacchus is faithfully reproduced "live" in the music video by Velcro Hooks, entitled "A Love Song to T. S. Eliot" (see 0.32).