This painting, by an unknown 17th-Century artist, depicts the ancient god of vegetation and wine, Bacchus (to the Romans) or Dionysus (to the Greeks). Bacchus/Dionysus was presented various ways by ancient artists, and this artwork opted for the common depiction of Bacchus or Dionysus as a handsome youth, which was Rome’s preferred way to portray the god. For artists re-creating mythical scenes, the Roman poet, Ovid (c. 43 BCE-17 CE), often was the go-to inspiration for their artworks. This is likely the case, too, for the artwork featured above and other similar artworks of Bacchus. Ovid’s description of Dionysus/Bacchus in his youthful state was as follows:
“Father of revels and cries ecstatic, Mystic Iácchus,
and all the other numberless names which Liber is known by
throughout the cities of Greece. For yours indeed is unperishing
youth and eternal boyhood. You have the comeliest form
of all the gods of Olympus, a face in your hornless epiphany
fair as a virgin girl’s.”
(Ovid, Metamorphosis, 4.15-20)
Such, then, is the ancient god and his youthful description that the artist strove to reproduce in his artwork. Again, it should be said that this youthful form was not the only persona that Bacchus adopted in his travels and adventures—he was also commonly displayed as an older pot-bellied and bearded man. Most painters, however—including the creator of the artwork featured above—opted for the more aesthetic picture of youth.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Metamorphoses by Ovid. Translated by David Raeburn. Penguin Classics; Revised Edition, 2004.