Bacchino malato (c.1595)

Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Bacchino malato, Autoritratto in veste di Bacco (Sick Bacchus, Self-portrait as Bacchus)
Oil on canvas, 67 x 53 cm
Galleria BorgheseRoma

Like the Giovane con canestra di frutta [Young Man with a Basket of Fruit] (inv. 136), this canvas was also among the group of works confiscated in 1607 from Giuseppe Cesari – called the Cavalier d’Arpino – accused by Paul V’s tax authorities of the illegal possession of firearms. In order to gain his freedom, the painter was forced to give his collection of pictures to the Apostolic Chamber. The collection was given in turn by the Pope to his nephew Scipione Borghese shortly thereafter.

The painting is an extremely realistic portrayal of the figure of a young man with the typical attributes of Bacchus, the god of wine and inebriation. He is turned toward the viewer in an atypical three-quarter pose, holding in his hands a bunch of lush green grapes, which clearly contrast with his bluish unhealthy complexion.

Critics have identified in the subject a possible self-portrait of the artist, by tracing the painting back to a documented event in the painter’s life, namely his hospitalisation at the Ospedale della Consolazione in Rome for undefined circumstances. This interpretation provides the origin for the work’s title: Autoritratto in veste di Bacco (Self-portrait in the Guise of Bacchus) or more commonly, Bacchino malato (Sick Bacchus). (GB)