Caravaggio created some of the most striking paintings of the Renaissance. Here is Bacchus as a young man. The imagery shows the flushed cheeks of the sensual young man who tempts the viewer with wine and beautiful fruits. The grape leaves on his head make a striking crown for the young Bacchus in his lounging seductive pose.
Bacchus, Caravaggio, 1597, Galleria defli Uffizi, Italy 37″X39″
The symbolism here is decidedly different than the earlier pose as Caravaggio poses in the costume of Bacchus. His face appears drawn and sickly, the rosy seductiveness of the earlier portrayal is replaced with the image of an older man who has been dissipated from the lifestyle represented by Bacchus.
Self Portrait as Bacchus, Caravaggio, 1593, Galleria Borghese, Italy 26″X20″
During the same era, we see the paintings of Nicholas Poussin of France creating mythological themed paintings. His work was modeled after Titian and Raphael and was based on his principle of classical painting based on the “grand manner” of painting that included subject matter, thought, structure and style. When all of these elements are integrated the result is a beautiful painting. Arrangement, measure, and form were the elements he noted in his Treatise on Painting written in the 17th Century.
The Nurture of Bacchus, NIcholaus Poussin, 1630, Musee du Louvre, 38″X54″
The French monarchy embraced classicism and many of these depictions of Dionysus would adorn the salons of Louis XIV. Cardinal Richelieu ordered Poussin to leave Rome and become a royal court painter. The Cardinal commissioned a number of Bacchanal scenes for his private residences.
Midas and Bacchus, Nicholaus Poussin, 1629, Alte Pinakothek, Germany 39″X51″
Poussin was a favored painter for these Bacchanal scenes.
Nicholaus Poussin, The Birth of Bacchus, 1657, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 122cm X 179cm
As in Italy, this genre of paintings was not for the viewing public. They decorated fabulous palaces of the French nobility.
Nicholas Poussin, The Triumphe of Bacchus, 1635, Nelson Atkins Museum Kansas City
Nicholas Poussin, Nymph Riding a Goat, 1631, The Hermitage Museum Russia
Some of the paintings have a darker side; more in line with the Pagan rituals of the Dionysus rites of Roman times. Themes of wontoness, rape and bestiality are suggested in these paintings. They are more graphic that the Dionysus images that only imply the sexuality inherent in the work.
Nicholas Poussin, Bacchanal of Putti, 1626, National Gallery of Antica 29″x 33″
The Bacchanal of the Putti is one of the more graphic scenes that would lead a modern viewer to question the patron’s interest in pedophilia. Cardinal Chigi of Italy commissioned these two images for his private villa.
Nicholas Poussin, Childrens Baccanale, 1626, National Gallery of Art Antica 29″X 33″
Peter Paul Reubens also created imagery that appears to mock the idealized portraitures of Dionysus. Instead he portrays the god as ravaged by the evils of his licentious ways. He is fat and dissipated. One wonders if this was a snide portrayal of members of the nobility who lived their lives pursueing pleasures.
Peter Paul Reubens, Bacchus and Satyrs, 1616, Louvre, Paris, 15″x11″
Peter Paul Reubens, Bacchus, 1638, State Hermitage Museum, Russia, 75″x 63″
The god is drunken and slovenly and is held up by his entourage of beastly followers.
Peter Paul Reubens, Drunken Bacchus with Faun and Satyr, 1639, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Another Baroque artist who captured the image of Dionysus is Guido Reni of Bologna. He was influenced by Carracci and Raphael. His is famous for his immense frescoes in the ceiling of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome. Owned by Cardinal Odoardo Farnese, the work was to celebrate the wedding of his brother. The work is known as the Loves of the Gods and represents earthly and divine love in classical mythology.
Guido Reni, Bacchus and Ariadne, 1621, Los Angeles Museum of Art
Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art Throughout the Ages. Boston:Wadworth, Centage Learning 2010
The Athenaeum. Digital image. The Athenaeum. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May
The National Gallery, London: Western European Painting 1250–1900. Digital image. The National Gallery, London: Western European Painting 1250–1900. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2013
2013.WikiPaintings.org – the Encyclopedia of Painting. Digital image. WikiPaintings.org – the Encyclopedia of Painting. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2013
Clark, T. J. (2005). Looking at the Ceiling. [Review of the book The Mirror of the Gods: Classical Mythology in Renaissance Art.] London Review of Books, 27(18), 7-9. Retrieved from http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n18/tj-clark/looking-at-the-ceiling